One of the most difficult parts of the crisis we’re enduring together is its uncertainty. There’s still so much we don’t know about the virus, like where it’s going to strike next, or who it will impact, or what will happen with the economy, or … perhaps most difficult of all … how long this is going to last.
But the longer we go into this, the more it seems like one aspect of this crisis is predictable: the coronavirus pandemic does not create new problems so much as significantly exacerbate the ones we already had.
Health insurance in the United States was already in crisis, dominating past presidential elections. Now the need for public health is a full-blown emergency.
Income inequality was already a significant issue in our country, even in its richest areas, with 40% of Americans not having $400 dollars on hand for an emergency. New research now shows that it is accelerating sharply based on who can and can’t work during the pandemic.
Workforce automation was a slowly building reality already impacting millions of jobs. Covid-19 is supercharging that trend, becoming “an automation forcing event,” leaving many industries with fewer jobs to fill.
College graduation rates were already fairly abysmal, especially for non-traditional students and marginalized populations. As the pandemic drags on – lo and behold! – non-traditional students and marginalized populations are getting hit especially hard.
Indeed, minority populations are both more likely to be changing their college plans and to believe they will be out of work soon.
The future will be different, but not in ways we didn’t see coming. The speed and the tragedy hitting us is shocking But the problems we have to solve are not so much new as they are the old problems we never really addressed before.
This suggests that a “return to normalcy” isn’t the goal we need to set. We don’t need innovation for its own sake, but we do need innovation that will actually solve the problems that we have lived with for so long. When it comes to education, we need to support the existing infrastructure of schools and colleges we have, to be sure. We also need new approaches built to support marginalized populations in ways that existing schools and colleges have been unable to do. We need new approaches specifically to create career paths for people whose jobs will be automated out of existence; new approaches to match the way in which many employers are focused on skills, not degrees. We need institutions to support non-traditional students where they are, rather than where we want them to be.
Calbright is part of the solution Governor Newsom outlined in his budget last week, which called for more skills-based learning for adults. Our model seems timely not because we were designed to meet COVID-19’s new challenges, but because we were designed to support the people the old systems were letting down. Governor Newsom understands that this is more important than ever. We’re not trying to get “back to normal,” we’re trying to help people, where they are, be part of where the future is going.