Three million fewer Americans are going to college than were a decade ago, and that likely means millions more who may lack access to high quality labor market opportunities, face long-term unemployment, and struggle with poverty.
Studies show that people who stop their education at high school are four times more likely than people with college degrees to be living in poverty, are 40 percent more likely to be unemployed, and when they are employed, earn $24,900 less on average.
What it also means is that the United States is looking at a significant labor shortage.
So many crucial jobs require college educations — and we’re already having trouble filling them. Three million more people off the college track (so far) means three million fewer potential teachers, nurses, doctors, skilled technical workers, and more.
The labor shortages, logistical slowdowns, and institutional breakdowns that we’re seeing now could be just the tip of the iceberg if there are too few people qualified to fill open positions across a myriad of sectors.
College Is Still Worth It If You Can Get In
One of the reasons California is losing prospective college students is that its college systems have more qualified applicants than they have spots. Smart, hard working people who want to fully participate in the economy can’t, and for no good reason.
Many states have the opposite problem. Colleges across the nation are struggling from declining enrollment. Filling those seats will require making college more accessible for more people. Too many students are shut out because college costs have gotten too high, the time commitment required to attend college is too great, or because working adults caring for children or living paycheck to paycheck just don’t have the bandwidth. Making education accessible is the responsibility of colleges — not students.
A New Kind of College With a New Kind of Approach
Calbright College is trying to solve many of these issues at once. Studies have shown that getting certificates from community colleges can produce a significant increase in income and employment, and that businesses and workers alike can be very happy with the results of short term, job-focused career certificates. We’re using the strengths of online education to establish open enrollment for adult Californians: any Californian with a high school diploma or equivalent can enroll. We’ve removed many of the barriers to college — we’re currently free, and students can take classes on their own schedule and pace, whether that’s sitting down to do it one day a week or in shorter increments throughout their day.
Calbright also focuses entirely on certificates that demonstrate the skills companies value. We don’t offer degrees, but rather we provide programs that students can complete in less than a year to get a credential that can help them land a better job in an upcoming industry. Our Career Services programs also help them develop their resumes, provide valuable insight into how to perform an effective job search, prepare for an interview, and be prepared for success in a new role.
It’s not just that so many workers need access to better jobs, though they do. It’s also that society needs more and more skilled workers to do vital jobs. Fitting our education system to our economy is a big challenge, but we can do it. It’s just not going to look traditional.