Clients, friends and fans (who ever thought I’d have fans when I grew up?) know that I am not your typical career coach for many reasons. One of those reasons is that I was driven to this business because of my disappointment with our K-16 education system and my sincere belief that I can do something about it through The Opportunities Project.
In December, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was interviewed on 60 Minutes. He used part of the interview to express his concern about the relationship between education and the current unemployment rate. In his words…
“It’s based very much, I think, on educational differences… If you’re a college graduate, unemployment is five percent. If you’re a high school graduate, it’s 10 percent or more. It’s a very big difference. It leads to an unequal society and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion that we’d like to see.”
First, I think that the unemployment problem is worse than what Bernanke states. The unemployment rate for college graduates only includes people who are eligible for unemployment insurance, which requires working full-time for at least a year in most states. Most college students who attended school full-time have not met that requirement, making them ineligible for unemployment when they graduate. This means that most of the class of 2010 are excluded from the government’s official statistics. Second, as a New York Times editorial pointed out, “college for all” is not going to solve our economic problems because these unemployment statistics don’t reveal that a high percentage of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.
The “unequal society” is the real issue. We have people who confidently and happily produce great work and people who don’t. We have discounted the impact of education’s failure to prepare young people for the careers that are available in today’s economy. We don’t teach our students how to be strategic, resilient, or creative and we push aspirations that don’t fit their abilities and interests. Sometimes that includes college. I am now seeing first hand how this mindset stays with people, even when they hit their thirties and beyond.
In January, I started thinking more about education and the economy as I was getting ready for the Teach for America 20 Year Summit. As someone starting out in career coaching, I’ve focused on gaining individual clients versus the social entrepreneurship and advocacy part of my business model. The Summit’s challenge to ask yourself what role you play in eliminating educational inequity as an alum made me reflect if I should be stepping that advocacy role up now. I also started reading press coverage about a book called Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Arun and Roksa found that students are learning very little in college and even worse, the “achievement gap” between poor and upper class students becomes exacerbated while they are in college. I read the book and what really stood out to me was the alignment between what the Collegiate Learning Assessment (the assessment the researchers based their findings on) measured and what employers desire in new hires (per the National Association of Colleges and Employers). It’s clear as day that we know what we should be doing in education and we’re not doing it, for various reasons.
Four Skills Measured on the Collegiate Learning Assessment
Top Four Skills Most Desired by Employers
|Communicate Clearly||Verbal Communication Skills|
|Solve Problems||Strong Work Ethic|
|Think Critically||Teamwork Skills|
|Reason Analytically||Analytical Skills|
My colleague Keith Petri, Founder and CEO of eBranding Me, and I had contemplated writing white papers on what role higher education, and particularly the college career center, plays in the scope of employment problems recent graduates face. As more people started talking about Academically Adrift, and we became more aware that we could make a difference, we knew it was time. With our co-author Justin Mathews, we just issued our first white paper, The Economic Achievement Gap: No End in Sight, our first paper in our three paper series called Solutions for Change in Education. In this first paper, we outline the problems through a summary of economic data and then offer starter solutions that could be implemented immediately to improve the likelihood that today’s college students and graduates find jobs. Our second and third papers will go into more detail on college career services and student responsibility, respectively.
You can download The Economic Achievement Gap here. A press release can also be accessed from my Press page. Keith, Justin and I encourage your feedback and have left the comments open on the page where you can download the paper. Change will only happen through discussion and collaboration and we want to have that with you!