College graduates will enter an economy bursting with opportunity; adults returning to school to gain degrees

It’s graduation season. This year’s college graduates will be entering the job market at one the best times in recent memory. E21 reports,

…a cursory look at macro and jobs data reveals that America’s class of 2018 is about to enter one of the rosiest labor markets in living memory.

Though the Department of Education’s National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES) is yet to come up with the number of degrees and certificates awarded by the nation’s universities in 2017-2018, last year’s figure of almost 5 million new graduates is a conservative estimate based on the past decade’s record of cohort growth deceleration.

These graduates will be able to choose from 6.6 million job vacancies, the highest number on record. Openings are also being filled quickly with 5.4 million hires made the same month. These young applicants will be more successful in that race for jobs than at any time in the past…

For bachelor’s degree earners, the employment-to-population ratio stands at 78 percent for the 2 million recent recipients aged 20 to 29—the highest since 2008 and far above the population-wide ratio of 60 percent.

Prospects for graduates with less than a bachelor’s degree are also good.

But the employment bonanza is even sweeter for laureates of associate’s degrees, for whom the figure is practically 80 percent after a staggering climb through the past 3 years.

The auspicious prospects for the less academically-inclined are mostly due to burgeoning training opportunities. At around 553,600, there are more apprenticeships today than at any time in the past decade according to the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration.

Given the widespread demand for workers with postsecondary credentials and college, a new effort from the American Enterprise Institute to address the problem on non-completion should be of great interest. They document a dismal completion rate in the nation’s colleges.

In 2016, more than 40 percent of all students who started at a four-year college six years earlier had not yet earned a degree. Odds are that most of those students never will. In real terms, this means that nearly two million students who begin college each year will drop out before earning a diploma.

Indeed, according to our research, there are more than 600 four-year colleges where less than a third of students will graduate within six years of arriving on campus. When we look at public two-year colleges, most of which are community colleges, the graduation rate for full-time, first-time students is even lower. Only about 26 percent of students at those schools will have completed their degree within three years.

They’re looking at ways to improve performance.

In seeking to respond to these challenges, education scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and Third Way have joined together to commission a series of studies by five experts laying out the challenges of non-completion and the urgency for families, educators, and policymakers to take action to address it. (You can find those papers here.)

Here’s one idea they explore. 

Thirty-two states currently use performance-based funding policies that award a larger share of public subsidies to colleges that deliver impressive performance metrics. While the overall success of these policies is still up for debate, what’s clear is that states like Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee are using these policies to gently prod colleges to focus on their students’ outcomes. In such states, some higher education institutions have modified their advising, counseling, and academic services to prioritize retention and completion.

Also responding to the opportunities awaiting those with additional training and education, more adults without degrees are returning to school. Public Agenda reports on the challenges they face and how they’re overcoming them.

Millions of American adults either have no education beyond high school or have some college but no degree. Helping more adults attain a degree or certificate is crucial for our nation’s competitiveness—as of 2016, we ranked 10th in the world in postsecondary attainment—and for individuals’ economic prospects as well. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require a degree or certificate. People with a degree or certificate earn substantially more than those with a high school diploma, are less likely to be unemployed and are more likely to have access to retirement plans and health care.

Although traditional-age students outnumber adult learners in college, the percent of adults enrolling in college continues to grow. Yet adult students have lower graduation rates than their younger peers. [Footnotes deleted.]

Among the factors contributing to the lower completion rates.

Adults going to college usually have other responsibilities, such as work or family, which may limit the hours and energy they can bring to their studies. Financial responsibilities such as rent or mortgage payments make it difficult to afford ever-increasing college tuition. Adults, as opposed to traditional students, do not come directly from high school but have taken years off from studies and may have forgotten academic concepts and habits and need developmental courses.

Low-income adult students face these and other barriers. In general, lower-income students of all ages are less likely to graduate than their more economically advantaged peers and are more likely to face various challenges.

Public Agenda’s full report, based on an extensive survey of 18- to 55-year-old high school graduates not currently enrolled in postsecondary education programs but planning to enroll, includes data, analysis, and recommendations of interest to policymakers, educators, and employers wanting to improve opportunities for adult students. A few of the recommendations:

  • Create structures to help undecided adult prospective students pick a program of study prior to enrollment or soon thereafter. Studies have found a correlationbetween early program entry and degree completion or successfully transferring. It is therefore concerning that since 2013, the percent of adults who are unsure of what they want to study increased 10 percent. Enrolling undeclared means students may use up valuable time and money deciding on a eld of study…

  • Find innovative ways to provide workplace-relevant instruction in classrooms. Manyadult prospective students are planning to pursue a degree or certi cate to broaden their career options, and most think it is absolutely essential to gain skills that are relevant to the workplace. Graduates’ career success is increasingly one of the metrics by which the quality of colleges and universities is measured. However, internships are not appealing to most adult prospective students. Colleges and faculty need to nd other ways to integrate workplace-relevant skills and foster experiential learning into their curricula and instruction…

  • Encourage businesses and community organizations to work together to supportadult prospective students. While adult prospective students may attribute postsecondary success more to students themselves than to colleges, they clearly believe that other entities in their communities can play roles in helping adults graduate. Consider ways to create partnerships between businesses, community organizations and colleges themselves to create support systems for adult learners. Such support will help adult students gain workplace-relevant skills, transfer without encountering barriers and nd support for critical needs such as food and transportation.

As we’ve written, most of the 740,000 job openings in our state over the next five years will be filled by employees with a postsecondary credential or some college. Clearly, the opportunities abound. Students – whether right our of high school or as returning adults – must have the support and guidance they need to successfully complete their postsecondary education.