Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the global economy, forcing millions of Americans from their schools and workplaces, our most vulnerable citizens were struggling to achieve the economic and social mobility promised by our education system.
Huge numbers of undergraduates—disproportionately from low-income and minority communities—start college but don’t make it to graduation, missing out on the benefits that come with degree completion. Even those who do earn degrees may find themselves ill-prepared for a fast-changing labor market—a disconnect often noted by employers but too seldom recognized by educators.
Worse yet, millions more working adults don’t have a foothold in the postsecondary system at all. Most at risk are low-income, Latino, Black, and Native American learners and workers—those who, for decades, have been disproportionately disadvantaged in our economy and under-represented on our college campuses.
In short, we have failed to prepare enough Americans for “the future of work.” And that future is now upon us.
Strada Education Network’s Public Viewpoint survey, as well as data from education and workforce experts around the country, indicates that even once the pandemic is under control, millions of Americans will be unable to return to the jobs they’ve lost—or in some cases, even to the industries where they have built their careers.
As in past economic downturns, many Americans see education as a crucial tool in their recovery. Increasingly, however, many people are seeking faster and less-expensive pathways to developing skills that will help them get ahead in the labor market. The college path, while often valuable, serves only one-third of Americans, even in the best of times. Our country’s education system will now require much greater capacity—and more varied providers and options—to meet the needs of all learners.
It’s time to do things differently.
Even before the pandemic, Strada Education Network had proposed the creation of a new learning ecosystem that would enable all Americans to transition seamlessly between education and employment throughout their careers, whether they seek traditional college degrees or earn certificates or credentials through non-traditional providers, online programs, or on-the-job training. That fluidity between learning and earning is key, not only to helping individuals and families progress, but to improving workforce development and facilitating long-term economic growth.
Clearly, the pandemic presents enormous challenges to our already strained education and workforce ecosystem. We believe it also presents an opportunity—and a mandate—for state policymakers to collaborate with forward-thinking educators, employers, community organizations and funders—not to replicate the same underperforming system we have now, but to mobilize and create many new pathways in a new learning ecosystem.
We offer the following blueprint as a guide to reenvisioning how we can transform our postsecondary education and workforce system to address the critical needs of learners and workers, communities, and our economy as we recover from the events of 2020. The six key elements of this blueprint are devised from listening to education consumers—past, current, and prospective students—as well as policymakers, educators, employers, and philanthropic leaders, and from learning about reforms already being advanced that show promise to scale across the country.
A call to action
At Strada Education Network, we believe that by convening and mobilizing educators, employers, policymakers, workforce experts, and community supporters, we can leverage real-time data and the best minds in states and communities to identify and fill gaps between in-demand job skills and the education and training that will help job seekers obtain those skills.
The future of work is here. The time to prepare all Americans is now.
To move from vision to action, Strada is interested in partnering with states and communities to plan and build a new learning ecosystem.
Through Recovery Incubator Grants, we will support select states that:
Building a new learning ecosystem that works for all Americans and for our economy will not be easy. It will require a willingness to think differently, to work hard, and to commit time, energy, and resources. Most importantly, it will require intensive collaboration and information sharing, within and among states. But with millions of Americans and the health of our nation’s economy at stake, we cannot wait to act.
We have the blueprint. Let’s start building today.
At Strada Education Network, our mission is to improve lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment. We marshall research, funding, and guidance to transform America’s education-to-workforce system to better serve learners and earners throughout their careers. We invest in and partner with states, education providers, employers, community organizations, and innovative companies to build an education system that works for all.
To learn more about Strada and our mission-aligned affiliates, please explore the resources below and visit stradaeducation.org.
Report: New Learning Ecosystem
Public Viewpoint Survey
Video: Adult learners
Lessons Earned Podcast (interviews with innovators in education and the workforce):
More Research and Insights:
Strada Institute for the Future of Work
Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights
Most people agree we need to improve economic mobility in this country. How to do that is another question entirely. Join Strada Education Network’s Ruth Watkins as she talks to educators, employers, and innovators about their best ideas for the future of education and work.
Report also finds that more respondents rate shorter nondegree programs as worth the cost than longer ones
Combination to Create a Leading Labor Market Analytics Company
Strada Education Network’s latest survey finds that 32 percent of adults whose education plans were disrupted by COVID-19 are no longer enrolled or planning to enroll, up from 10 percent last spring
Insights from National Experts
Recruiting, hiring, and training improvements are here to stay, employer survey says
This career exploration and readiness program’s formula for learner success combines social capital, self-discovery to launch career pathways for first-gen grads
Just half of college alumni feel it was worth it to take out loans to attend college, with even lower levels of satisfaction from Black and Latino alumni about their loans.
Strada Education Network’s latest Public Viewpoint research finds that fewer than 4 in 10 Black alumni and less than half of Latino alumni feel that it was worth taking out their student loans—but strong career support boosts their assessment.
Growing up in San Francisco, Ebony Beckwith attended an academically selective high school where most of her classmates were university-bound. She opted for a different path, heading directly into the workforce while winding through several community colleges before realizing she needed that four-year degree to reach her career goals.
Invest now in community colleges to fuel economic opportunity
Talent Path’s Learn-and-Earn Model Bridges Skills Gap Between College and Career
Gerald Chertavian believes every young adult has potential and deserves a clear pathway to a great career, whether through college or directly into the workforce. And as founder and CEO of Year Up, he’s proving that with the appropriate training and employer support, it can take as little as one year for “opportunity youth” — 16- to 24-year-olds who are neither working nor in school — to move from poverty to a well-paid, in-demand career, often with a Fortune 500 company.
Can the pandemic induce higher education to jump-start the future of learning?
Amid a pandemic crisis characterized by stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions, the leader of the career center at Stony Brook University describes its fallout with an unexpected word: freedom.
Bill Hansen to Step Down After Eight Years Leading Nonprofit Social Impact Organization
There’s no shortage of big, ambitious ideas for creating an education-workforce system that improves upward mobility for more people. Harvard education economist David Deming uses hard data to stress test those ideas and see what might work, and what probably won’t. We talk to him about what he’s learning and what he recommends we do right now to improve the value of education for an increasingly diverse workforce.
Could the dislocations brought on by COVID-19 lead to a long-term upside? For this webinar, Strada’s Ben Wildavsky leads a discussion about the hybrid campus concept with expert panelists Cole Clark, managing director — higher education at Deloitte; Maurie McInnis, president, Stony Brook University; Jeff Selingo, higher education author; and Marni Baker Stein, provost, Western Governors University. The conversation was inspired by a new Deloitte report developed in partnership with Strada Education Network.
In her early 20s, Kiabeth Santos was well on her way to achieving her goal of becoming a nurse. She wanted to work in health care, and she loves working with people. But then life — as it often does — got in the way.
XULA President Reynold Verret on How His HBCU Helps Students Succeed
During COVID-19, many higher education institutions adopted a mix of face-to-face and online delivery of courses and services—creating an opportunity for a more permanent shift to a hybrid university.
Historically, the path to a college degree and upward mobility for Black students usually led through a Black college or university. Even today, with mainstream institutions welcoming many more racially diverse students, HBCUs remain a driving force in launching Black leaders, including Vice President Kamala Harris, a graduate of Howard University. To find out what HBCUs can teach the rest of higher ed about student success, we sit down with Reynold Verret, the child of Haitian political refugees who grew up to become president of Xavier University of Louisiana, a small HBCU that is the nation’s No. 1 producer of future Black doctors.
Preparing the Education-Workforce System for the 100-Year Career
University of Utah leader will drive Strada Education Network’s research, philanthropy, policy, and thought leadership on national stage.
In the not-so-distant future, workers will make dozens of career changes over a working life of 75 or even 100 years. Michelle Weise, an expert on the future of work and author of “Long Life Learning,” says human skills like communication, creativity, and teamwork will remain critical in an era when robots and automation take over routine jobs. What’s more, workers increasingly will need to learn new skills rather than assuming a degree early in life will carry them through.
In the earliest days of the pandemic, researchers at Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights realized leaders across our nation would need a real-time understanding of how people were experiencing, thinking about, and feeling about work and education. The research team launched a regular survey, Public Viewpoint, to make these insights widely available — ultimately including more than 25,000 survey participants over the course of 2020.
‘Lessons Earned’ Podcast Talks With JFF’s Michael Collins
Long before JFF’s Michael Collins became an education-workforce policy expert, he was a Black kid living in Hartford, Connecticut, bussed to school in the white suburbs. The experience, followed years later by a stint teaching low-income Latino students in Texas, drove home the racial and economic disparities he’s been working to solve ever since. In the midst of a pandemic disrupting education and work — especially for low-income people of color — we talk to Michael about how to equip people for jobs today without closing off opportunities to advance in jobs of the future.
The story of one learner’s journey through education and employment is told across several data sets. Enrollment and graduation outcomes tell one part of the story, with labor market information and employer data filling in the blanks. Brighthive, led by CEO and founder Matt Gee, is connecting siloed data systems so learners, employers, and educators alike can make better informed decisions about preparing tomorrow’s workforce.
Workers can’t rely on promises alone to advance. They need clearer paths from training to career opportunities.
Earning a degree should help you advance in the work you love — not get in the way of it. Learner-centered programs fit learning into the rest of life.
Life’s curveballs can make our plans go awry. Better options can help us finish what we started.
Committing to education, alongside all of life’s other commitments, takes coordination, determination, and dedication. Financial support and a flexible work schedule can make it all come together.
All the planning in the world can’t guarantee success. Learners need opportunity and support to put their plans into action.
Application requirements favoring families who can apply and commit early without comparing financial aid packages. A preference for legacy students and star athletes. A tendency to recruit from the same high schools year after year.
What if, instead of adding work on top of education, the work you did advanced your education? Integrated earning and learning makes the most of learners’ time and talent.
Our mission is to improve lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment.
How Intermediaries Can Connect Education and Work in a Postpandemic World
It’s college application season, and anxious students and parents throughout the country are strategizing on how to get into the elite colleges of their choice. Journalist and author Jeff Selingo just spent a year inside college admissions offices at three higher education institutions to write his latest book, “Who Gets In and Why.”