Using workforce data to improve student outcomes

Institutions can better serve students by using technology to evaluate skills development and its relevance to workforce needs

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? This seemingly innocuous question gets pretty weighty for college students as they make the decisions that could easily determine their life’s trajectory. And while some students are clear on their career choices, others need more information and guidance, such as which courses will best equip them with the skills employers value and whether their chosen profession will remain in demand.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that for young college graduates, the unemployment rate is 5.3 percent, while the underemployment rate is 11.1 percent in 2018. While that’s good news for around 80 percent of graduates, it still leaves one-fifth who are not finding suitable post-college employment. Perhaps even more alarming is a Gallup study that found “a crisis of confidence” among most students regarding their readiness to launch careers, specifically:

  • Only a third of students believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34 percent) and in the workplace (36 percent).
  • Just half (53 percent) believe their major will lead to a good job.

At a time when higher education institutions are being held increasingly accountable for student outcomes and striving to prove their worth as an investment, the six-year completion rate for those who enrolled in 2011 was 56.9 percent. This number indicates that colleges and universities could be doing more to ensure that students see tangible value from their education in the form of a defined career path.

Improving advising to increase retention
While many higher ed institutions offer extensive career placement services, the reality is that these guidance services don’t always have access to current and complete workforce data. It’s constantly changing, and career counselors can’t be expected to know what will make someone successful in thousands of occupations. So how can today’s institutions, advisors, and students gain greater insight into workforce needs and make course corrections early enough in the student lifecycle to acquire needed skills?

eSchool Media Contributors

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