by Lauren Cuzzaniti, Business Development at Coursera
College can be an incredibly valuable experience. At its best, college is a place that teaches you to work well with others, challenges you to think critically, and gives you the skills you need to embark on a career. Unfortunately, not all college graduates have that experience as college is no longer the ticket to a secure future it once was. Today nearly 44% of recent college grads are underemployed and many never learn the skills they need to succeed.
In today’s world, critical thinking may be one of the most important skills to ensure long term career success given the need to continually adapt to changing job market needs. Yet after tracking thousands of college students across 24 universities, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that even after 4 years of study, 36% of students did not significantly improve their critical thinking. Employers agree with this deficiency with only 26% feeling their recent college graduate hires are well prepared in critical thinking. They also found them lacking in a host of other skills from working with numbers to solving complex problems.
As a result, new grads are finding it harder to find quality jobs with many winding up in jobs that do not require college degrees. Meeting these harsh realities in the workplace led only 40% of college seniors to believe that their college experience had been very helpful in preparing for a career, according to McGraw-Hill Education’s 2016 Workforce Readiness Survey.
However, while returns in actual skills gained from college are not there for everyone, an increasing number of employers are requiring college degrees for jobs that traditionally never required one. The proportion of college graduates in the US has tripled since 1970. Now that employers have the luxury of choosing amongst so many college graduates, they are using college degrees as a way to filter candidates even if a college education is not necessary for the job.
The result is that the nearly ⅔ of the U.S. population without a bachelor’s degree is being shut out of more and more high quality careers, and according to Harvard GSE’s Pathways to Prosperity report,, “roughly half of all Americans reach their mid-20s without the skills or credentials essential for success in today’s increasingly demanding economy.” Pew Research found that the college wage gap has widened dramatically in the last 30 years and has “never been greater in the modern era.” As more jobs get automated and the skill requirements for jobs increase, this problem will only get worse.
So what is the solution?
Part of the solution is students studying the skills that will be in demand. According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, field of study has a larger impact on income post-graduation than actually graduating from college; there is a $3.4 million lifetime wage gap between the highest and lowest paying majors, while there is only a $1M wage gap between college graduates and high school graduates. Unsurprisingly, the highest paying majors are STEM and business. Additionally, there is some evidence that performance in math and science is also correlated with problem solving abilities and increasingly the non-technical competencies that are associated with STEM are making STEM majors in demand in non-STEM careers.
Additionally, there is hope that there can be more efficient ways to find and develop talent for middle skilled professions rather than just increasing the required credentials. Burning Glass found that healthcare and engineering technician jobs have not experienced the same “upcredentialing” of other fields likely since their strict licensing requirements and well defined training programs already give employers confidence in candidates’ skills.
At Coursera, we aim to contribute to the solution as we envision a world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience. One way we are doing this is by sourcing content from industry and university partners based on the skills which are most in demand by employers. We offer valuable content and credentials from partners like Cisco Networking Academy, Google Cloud, IBM, Duke, Johns Hopkins and cover topics like networking, cybersecurity, data science, digital manufacturing, and web development.
To ensure our career relevance, we survey our learners on the career benefits they receive from completing our courses and we found that 84% of our career motivated learners reported career benefits from taking a course. What is even more promising is that our learners without bachelor’s degrees actually reported career benefits at a higher rate than those with more education.
To further increase our reach to those who need us most, almost a year ago the Coursera for Governments team was formed to partner with organizations like departments of education, foundations, and other government agencies that are focused on educating and training youth and young adults at scale. Some of our early partners include Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency and RePublic Charter Schools who are focused on training youth in computer science. An overview of other partners can be found here.
Interested in partnering with us to train youth at scale? Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org