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Employers increasingly are raising concerns about skills gaps — the mismatch between the skills they need in their workforce versus the skills job applicants possess. In Texas, there is a persistent and growing shortage of workers with digital and analytic skills. As a result, employers are having a hard time filling high-quality jobs in information technology, cybersecurity, and business (e.g., general managers, project managers, business analysts, etc.). Additionally, based on data from SeekUT — the University of Texas System’s cutting-edge employment and earnings outcome dashboard — we have identified troubling inequities in postsecondary value. In the UT System, we know that a graduate’s field of study has a significant impact on earnings and that median earnings are persistently lower for people of color at every level of degree attainment. While UT System graduates earn 92 percent more than high school-educated workers, a student’s major has the largest impact on post-graduation earnings, with differences of almost $45,000 per year.

In response to these challenges, UT System recently launched Texas Credentials for the Future, an initiative focused on expanding and creating short-term, industry-recognized credentials that are in high demand. In support of this effort and with funding support from Strada’s Beyond Completion Challenge, UT’s eight academic institutions will redesign undergraduate degree experiences that incorporate skills and knowledge desired by employers for high-demand, high-quality careers. Institutions will incorporate relevant, industry-recognized microcredentials and skills badges into the curriculum and cocurriculum to help produce well-rounded, job-ready graduates with the skills most needed by Texas employers. Students will earn a microcredential or skills badge while pursuing their degrees, resulting in graduates who are both broadly educated and specifically skilled, with the goal of improved job placement and earnings outcomes.

UT institutions will work with leading employers to identify existing (i.e., “off the shelf”) and develop new microcredentials and skills badges that signify tangible skills and knowledge recognized and valued by employers. Faculty will determine the appropriate fit for a microcredential or skills badge within an academic program and align competencies with academic course and program learning outcomes. Faculty may incorporate microcredentials or skills badges as a course capstone, program capstone, after the completion of a series of courses, or as a cocurricular offering, among other approaches.

While attending to persistent skills gaps, this project also will address inequities in postsecondary value by focusing on majors that consistently produce graduates with lower-than-average salaries. Moreover, because a disproportionate percentage of UT undergraduate students of color enroll in majors associated with lower salaries, we also will address racial disparities in postsecondary value while helping to diversify the talent pipeline.