The End Of Graduation
By Arthur Levine
President Arthur Levine
The United States is experiencing swift, deep and unrelenting change as it transitions from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy. The way Americans think about their careers, their jobs and the education they require is a product of the former. The emerging era and the disruptions that accompany it will bring about profound changes in each. Between the emergence of new occupations, the declining half life of knowledge and the rise of new technologies, Americans will need more education, more frequently than ever before in history.
It is common knowledge that low end education jobs are disappearing, But that’s only part of the story; jobs requiring a great deal of education but involving routine work, even in fields such as journalism, medicine and law are also being eliminated. Some of those jobs have migrated to other countries but the overwhelming majority — four out of five — have been lost to automation.
The scale of automation-driven job loss will only increase and we can expect whole industries to vanish. For example, in 29 states the most common job is truck driver. Driverless trucks can be expected to take those jobs and eliminate the need for the restaurants and services that support drivers as well.
Even in industries not at risk, the skills and knowledge required to perform existing jobs is continually changing, demanding both updating and raising skills just for a worker to stay in place.
The point is this. College graduation increasingly marks only the beginning of a career, providing the foundation for initial employment. In the years ahead, frequent reskilling and upskilling will become as much a norm as attending college after secondary education.
The implications for the nation and institutions of higher education are profound. For the nation, this require a redefinition of the meaning of access to college.
This subject has been on the national agenda for 70 years, since President Truman’s 1947 commission on higher education. The goal has been to ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity to attend college to prepare for the future.
This definition of access, while still essential today, has become insufficient. Now and in the future Americans will need access to postsecondary education throughout their lives — convenient, affordable and up to the minute education tied to market needs.
This will require funding from government and industry. Industries that downsize should be required to fund the reskilling of their workforce. Federal and state financial aid programs need to expand beyond preparation to upskilling and reskilling throughout life.
Colleges and universities need to monitor the employment marketplace to a greater extent than ever before. This requires data that are well vetted, comprehensive, easily accessible, widely publicized and up to date. It means creating new programs — degrees, certificates and stackable credentials rooted in the competencies jobs required in the growth areas — if they do not currently exist, and closing programs in dying fields. If colleges and universities do not, a burgeoning number of competing non-university postsecondary providers — for-profit and non-for-profit — will.
We should do these things because the future of the nation and our citizens depends upon them. The waning analog, industrial economy has been dependent on natural resources and physical labor. In contrast, the emerging information economy will be powered by knowledge and minds. Education is the dynamo that will drive the future in our lives and our nation. The United States requires an educated citizenry and that citizenry needs be educated throughout their lives to remain vital in a world in transition. #
Arthur Levine is the President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and President Emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University.