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For decades, college education has been a “golden ticket” to the American Dream, leading to higher salaries and job guarantees.
To date, the average college graduate earns a total of $ 2.8 million over their careers compared to the $ 1.6 million (70% difference) earned by their fellow high school graduates, according to a 2021 study year at the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy.
But as modern business requires more technological skills and higher education becomes more expensive, some humanities graduates have been frustrated that the college dividends they expected from all the money spent have become elusive.
This dividend is likely to decline further as employers recognize that the absence of a four-year college does not mean a person lacks the skills, drive or ambition needed to succeed in the workplace.
The result has been a decade of declining college admissions, suggesting that millions of Americans now either are unwilling or unable to pay the high price associated with a college diploma. Recent Harris Paul found that 51% of all adults in the U.S. say higher education costs have affected their ability to get an education after high school.
While this may have a negative impact on some colleges, this trend may be good for expanding economic and social mobility.
Colleges are traditionally judged by research and exclusivity, rather than on ROI or student performance. Even colleges that provide excellent employment opportunities to their STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering, and math) may not create a similar return on investment for their humanities students.
Higher education is, of course, resilient to the fact that gross economic measures, such as return on investment, are applied to wider social benefits.
However, it is undeniable that the distribution of low-quality, expensive diplomas for some has diminished the value of higher education, contributed to a gap in racial wealth, and called into question the previously unwarranted social goal of continually expanding participation in higher education.
The path to the American Dream, which was once a source of hope for many, is not as clear as it once was.
This picture is complicated by the fact that many employers have long found it convenient to use a college diploma as a test requirement even for low-skilled jobs to make resume viewing more effective.
In almost all areas, jobs previously held by non-college graduates are filled by people with diplomas.
In 2000, 18% of technicians had diplomas, compared to 36% in 2019. The probability of obtaining a bachelor’s degree as a police officer or firefighter increased by 13%. Inflation of skills in the job market is forcing many students to enroll in substandard but often expensive colleges to just stand in the door.
But changes are taking place that will bring some relief to students who want to go to work more economically.
The pressure exerted on the business pandemic and the Great Resignation have already forced some employers to take a fresh look at how they evaluate job applicants. Companies have begun looking for new or previously ignored sources of talent, including without a degree.
For example, Google creates opportunities for non-traditional talent through a career certificate program that offers participating talent to work through a consortium of employers from more than 150 companies, including Deloitte, SAP, Verizon, Walmart and Google itself.
The truth is that most jobs don’t really require a higher degree, but they do require skills – both technical knowledge and so-called “soft skills” needed to interact with clients and colleagues.
There are many ways to give people the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, other than four – or even two – years of college and the debt that comes with it.
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One of the most promising approaches is skills-based learning.
Short online courses and personal courses can validate the skills needed by employers in six months or less at a low or free price for a student. Innovative educational institutions such as Dallas College, Miami-Dade, and Western Governor’s University are making revolutionary efforts to identify and validate individual skills in collaboration with a wide range of employers to qualify for work both individually and in combination with salaries. college diploma.
The organization I work for, the Milken Center for the Advancement of the American Dream, recently partnered with Coursera to offer 200,000 free scholarships for free certificates aimed at technical and employment skills through American Dream Academy.
With these scholarships, students just from high school or those who want to increase their ability to earn money can take short courses created by leading companies, including Google, IBM and Meta, gaining in-demand technical skills and gaining valuable credentials. More than 150 leading companies have already stepped up to recognize these certificates as qualifications that lead to well-paid work.
According to Opportunity @ Work, more than 77 million American workers do not have higher education. As many as 30 million of these workers have the skill sets needed for higher-paying jobs, but they are constrained by degree requirements.
Adopting and recognizing alternative educational pathways to employment can play a crucial role in expanding access to the American Dream, maintaining America’s competitiveness, and creating the diverse workforce needed for tomorrow.
– Carrie Healy, Ph.D. Healy is president of the Milken American Dream Promotion Center. She previously served as president of Babson College and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.