May 19, 2021
 2-3 p.m. EDT

When the pandemic struck last year, education and work were disrupted for millions. How are those individuals doing now? Have they reconnected with education and training, or do they plan to in the near future? What education options most appeal to them? Are those who lost jobs or income back to work? Strada Education Network’s latest Public Viewpoint research turns its attention to those whose education plans and work lives were upended by the pandemic.

Webinar Transcript

Moderator: Paul Fain, Senior Fellow, Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights

Presenter: Andrew R. Hanson, Director of Research, Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights

Panelists: Linda Garcia, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Community College Student Engagement, the University of Texas at Austin

Su Jin Gatlin Jez, Ph.D., Executive Director, California Competes


Paul Fain: We’re going to give folks a little bit more time to log on here, so just hold tight a minute or two before we get started. Alright I’m gonna fire it up, this is an important topic. I know some folks are still showing up but plenty to cover here. Welcome to the webcast from Strada’s education network public viewpoint. New findings today on back to class “will pandemic disrupted learners return to school” I’m Paul Fain, i’m your moderator. i’m a journalist who writes a newsletter called The Job on this topic and better connections between education and work, which I think is one of the biggest challenges our nation faces right now.

My newsletter will be joined soon by a sister publication it’s kicking off next month called Workshift. And I’m just gonna give you a couple data points to reinforce the point of how important this topic is. I think everybody,probably on this call, knows well about higher education’s enrollment crisis. Following the last fall’s declines, particularly in the community college sector, which was about 10 percent overall.

This Spring, we saw at 11 percent to crack decline in the Community college sector and this follows a basically a multi year shift of folks increasingly questioning. The value of a college credential which I must add, remains the best ticket to the middle class assuming you complete and then don’t take on too much debt. But this is not just a problem for higher education it’s one for employers and society on the whole. The AP today reported that US job openings rose 8 percent in March, but overall hiring rate is less than 4 percent. 

We can spend the whole hour arguing about Labor shortages and whether they exist or not, but I’ll just say there’s an increasing body of information, showing that people are questioning their careers and they’re rethinking what they want to do and how to get there and that’s part of what we’re here to talk about so without further ado I’m going to introduce our panelists before turning it over to Andrew Hanson from Strada to talk about the findings. First, Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez, the executive director of California Competes. California Competes is a nonprofit policy organization that seeks to increase access to college and improve college graduation rates. 

Created in 2011 by civic and business leaders in California, the group calls for a better coordination and planning for the future needs of the state’s economy which, as you may have heard, is a large economy. And then next, Dr Linda Garcia, Executive Director of the Center for Community college student engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Texas, also a big economy. 

The Center is a service and research initiative at UT Austin’s College of Education, it provides information about effective educational practices and community colleges and assists institutions and policymakers and using information to promote improvements in student learning, persistence attainment, and let’s say engagement as well, which is the topic of the day. But first, I’m going to turn it over to Andrew to tell us about the numbers.

Andrew Hanson: Thanks Paul and on behalf of Strada, welcome, and thank you all for joining us today. For those of you joining us for the first time. The public Viewpoint, aside from this webinar series, is a nationally representative survey of 1000 adults that we’ve been conducting since the onset of the pandemic at first. Every week and then every two weeks, and now on a monthly basis, and so our goal with the Public Viewpoint is just to better understand workers and learners’ preferences, perspectives, and experiences with respect to education, training and work as we all navigate the pandemic. 

And so, Paul talked a lot about this, but we all know the incredibly disruptive effects that the pandemic’s had on work and education. Record levels of employment, the declining enrollments numbers that Paul talks about, especially with respect to first time students to community college sector. Our most recent data that Paul referred to on job openings are 8.6 million job openings which is record high. Before the pandemic, we had 7 million, you know just by comparison. So far, a lot of those job openings aren’t being filled. The reasons for that are complex and I just have to say Paul’s done a terrific job kind of reporting and capturing some of the dynamics at play there, so we encourage you to subscribe to The Job.

At the same time, the more enrollment data that come in just suggests that things are even worse than we imagined and there’s obviously a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen this fall so where we come in as a year ago we reported early on in the spring, the extent and the nature of the disruption both to work and education, and you know we saw how widespread that was, and so what we’ve done today is updated that analysis to reflect all of the destruction that’s taken place over the past year, you know, in the past 10 months or so and then added a little bit of detail there.

Just a friendly reminder, as I go through these, that they are available to download if you want to follow along on your own, take notes and so on. My colleague Carrie Sampson is going to post the links in the chat and we also have details on our data source and methods at the back end of the deck if you’re interested in that. So with that, let’s go ahead and dig in. So the first thing we asked about was changes at work that resulted from the pandemic and, to date, we saw that half of adults said that their work has changed in some way as a result of the pandemic.

The most common changes were having to work either more or fewer hours, a change in the amount that someone had to work for. A lot of folks also said that they lost their job, you know that was common or that they had to start a new job because of the pandemic, we have seen job change. And then, with respect to education, we asked whether folks had to change or cancel their education plans because of the pandemic and we had 37 percent of adults who said yes, 15 percent who said they canceled their plans altogether, 22 percent who said that they changed them in some way. The most common experiences that you can see, on the right there are canceling your plans altogether or delaying when you were going to enroll the plan to enroll but then.

The pandemic caused them to put that off; other common changes we saw were reducing the amount of course work. Taking on or switching to an online modality or an online provider compared to when we reported on this in May of last year we’ve seen a slight uptick in the overall levels, but the vast majority of the disruption took place in those first few months of the pandemic. Among learners, which are people who reported that they had some kind of education plan, young adults were a lot more likely to have had their education disrupted than working age adults. 

And then, Latino and Asian Americans experiencing the greatest disruption among racial groups, but of course we also learned last year that if you look at disruption broadly in total work, education, life, health and so on, that black Americans experienced some of the greatest concentrations of disruptions as well as you know, women millennials leisure hospitality workers, so the suffering has been quite widespread We also asked disrupted learners about their reasons, their motivations for changing or canceling their plans and there was quite a bit of diversity, here. The most common reasons were financial costs and competing work demands which, as we all know, were exacerbated by the pandemic. 

We also had a lot of folks who said either they could not or didn’t want to attend in person, that they had caregiving responsibilities, or that they just you know, had health concerns that were related to the pandemic. So that’s where we’re at currently in terms of the extents. the magnitude of the disruption. And in the second part of this analysis, we wanted to check in on these disrupted workers and learners and get a sense of specifically the extent to which they’re pursuing education and training.

And so we saw that workers who said they experienced some kind of change, which I referred to earlier, are indeed returning to education and training to help them retool. In fact, they were more than three times more likely to say that they planned to enroll in an education or training program in the next six months compared to those who said that they didn’t experience a change at work and so, that’s encouraging and that’s good news. What was more disheartening, however, is what’s happened to disrupted learners and again that’s referring to those who changed or canceled their plans, because of the pandemic.

That’s what they said so, when we were first reported on these learners in the spring of last year, nine out of 10 said, either, that they were still enrolled or that they had planned to enroll in an education or training program in the next six months and, as you can see here, both enrollments and intentions to enroll for this group of disrupted learners of both declined substantially. And so you think about what that means for all of the individuals and the families. 

and what that represents and it’s really, in our view, a national crisis of folks who were pursuing education and training but appear to have given up that pursuit. 

They’re no longer on the path to all of the benefits that we associate with education upward mobility, career advancements, realizing your potential, and achieving your goals. And so that’s why we’re here today, this diversion from education and training has been really concentrated among working age adult learners in particular. So you see only 2 percent of working age adults who said their learning was disrupted say that they’re currently enrolled in the moment, and only 34 percent of those folks plan to enroll in the next six months. By contrast, if you look over at young young adults 18 to 24 year olds, more than 90 percent of those folks said that they’re pursuing education in some form. Among racial groups, perhaps surprising to some it’s actually white disrupted learners who are the most like or excuse me, the least likely to be in pursuit of education.

And so, even though that’s, of course, widespread across race racial groups. And that may be related to something that we’ve seen as we’ve been conducting this research over the past few years, which is that white Americans in general, Paul kind of referred to this, are becoming increasingly skeptical of the value proposition of education, compared to folks of color. And so, finally, we asked disrupted learners who intend to enroll in the next six months, where they plan to enroll- meaning what kind of provider.

And what we see overall here is that there’s much greater interest in the work-based and non-traditional education and training options which are in green and at the top there, compared to the traditional options of from colleges and universities which are in blue; and that’s something that we’ve seen more broadly as we’ve looked at these trends more broadly, across you know the entire population, different groups. 

That’s the same pattern that we’ve seen but it’s true for this population of disrupted learners as well, and we also saw that the two most popular options that you see at the top, there were employers and online non college training providers, which includes things like online courses training certifications so something like a boot camp, you know would fall into that category and that’s interesting because I think the latter part of is interesting, we’ve seen interests in employer-provided education and training, since before the pandemic and certainly we saw you know, in a growing interest in these online non-college training options.

But you know those accelerated quite a bit have accelerated quite a bit in the pandemic. So that’s really interesting to see. So the reason all this matters, in my view, is that this recession, this crisis has been different. Recessions generally tend to accelerate the changes in the kinds of jobs that are available in the skills that are in demand, you know the jobs being created are different from the jobs that we lost. One of the reasons that education and training is so important is that it helps workers adapt.

It helps them retool, re-skill, re-transition to the new opportunities, where the jobs are coming, but in this case, the combination of the financial shocks that we saw. The competing family and caregiving responsibilities, and then the barriers to in person learning those three together have inhibited so many of these workers and learners from pursuing the education and training that normally would help them adapt to the changes that are taking place. And what we’re seeing is that so many of these learners are getting discouraged, you know they’re giving up.

They’re abandoning their education plans, and so, in the long run, I’m confident that you know they’ll be able to adapt. But there’s also a lot of short term, you know sort of unnecessary. suffering that we can minimize by finding ways to accelerate workers’ ability to adapt and connect them to learning and to the opportunities that are coming online in the labor market so as so many of us, I think, are now in this mode where we’re reconnecting,after hopefully you know getting vaccinated, and reconnecting with our families, with our friends, with our communities.

Reconnecting learners to education and two pathways to career and to life success is the first order challenge of the moment that we’re in. So the research that I’ve shared with you today, and this webinar is part of a broader effort of Strada’s this year and that’s an effort focused on reconnecting learners whose education was disrupted and, as I said, we believe this as a national crisis we are committed to advancing our understanding of the nature of this disruption.

Identifying. solutions as well and that’s why we’re here, so we have, just real quickly before we jump into the panel, we’ve got a series of research projects that are connected to that endeavor. This Spring, we convened education and workforce leaders from across the country which includes heads of institutions, states, leading nonprofits, and we asked them how to reconnect specifically the 2020 and 2021 high school classes back to school.

So, You can find the results of that survey on our website and we’ll post a link to the chat to that, and then we have an upcoming webinar next week that’s focused on community colleges in particular, and so, and how they can sort of reverse the declining enrollment trends that they’ve experienced over the course of the pandemic so just please stay tuned.As we work to reconnect our nation’s workers and learners to education and training. With that, thank you again for being here today, and thank you for the work that you do. 

And Paul, I’ll hand it back over to you.

Paul Fain: Thanks Andrew, appreciate that. I really liked the framing of the great reconnection. You know it’s got some optimism embedded in there, so just a quick housekeeping thing. I’m going to leave some time at the end for your questions, but I’d love it if you ask them throughout and we’ll turn to questions as soon as I can. You can just put them in the Q&A ,as I’m sure we all know now, at the bottom of our Zoom browser.

And just from all the folks saying hello, it looks like a lot of practitioners out there, so great to have you and we can hope this can be helpful. So, you know, Andrew you don’t have to be a crack journalist to know that the part of the news here is the declining intent to enroll, in the survey. It’s really alarming there and let’s start with Dr Garcia, you know, can you talk about some of the barriers that you’re seeing that might be preventing students from thinking about enrolling, particularly underrepresented students? Anything you want to really highlight that Andrew mentioned, or maybe even some causes you think aren’t getting enough attention?

Dr. Linda Garcia: Absolutely, and let me just start off saying Paul, thank you for the invitation to be part of this discussion and kudos to your team and Andrew for presenting the data on this critical conversation that we have to continue having. Because our students are experiencing this pandemic that’s impacting their student success and understanding what it is to look at a student holistically, it has raised that conversation, has amplified that conversation.

What Andrew mentioned, those are things that we are seeing at the Center for Community College Student Engagement. In fact, we just released a report recently about how students are faring with the pandemic. What does that mean for their student experience? What you showed, we saw the same thing. In addition to that, we would include Native American students who are experiencing a lot of challenges.

They also said about changes with their plans, now our report only looked at students who are currently enrolled but yours took it a step further, you know they were disrupted and why did hat were some of the things that impacted them. But just a little bit of nuggets that we learned, one third of our students said their plans changed, just like you did they changed in ways in which they planned to attend another community college or they plan to attend a university, but they decided to stay locally or they decided to enroll at the College they had no plans to enter whatsoever, so there were some adjustments that were made.

But the barriers that you talked about absolutely, community colleges, they serve the most students that are low income minority populations and those populations have been impacted by the pandemic, they’re struggling to pay for college. Our data showed that 31 percent of native American students struggled with this. 25 percent black students, 20 percent Hispanic students, and just to let the audience know, this report represented 38 colleges over 5100 students, and so we heard from them.

But what was also notable is that students with children, as you also mentioned, had struggles as well. How do you balance that when your child is there with you, virtually and they’re enrolled in their learning environment, as you are too? The lack of connection to internet, the lack of having a computer was also a challenge to them. But, I think a barrier that may need more attention, and I want to go back to that word that Andrew just said: reconnection.

I really believe that there has to be more emphasis on connecting to those students to those disrupted learners but also connecting to students before they become a disruptive learner. In our data, we’ll ask students if they felt welcomed at the college or they have good relationships. Now the great news is that the majority of students say yes, they agree but there’s always that small percentage of students who say no or they’re neutral.

So, right now, during this pandemic, it is so important to connect to those students to make sure that they know that the college is there to support them, that the student knows that the college cares for them. I’m reminded of a college, in fact, who was one of the Aspen in fact it was announced yesterday Amarillo College, for example. They’re one of the award recipients and they talk about a culture of caring.

So, how does a college do that,during this pandemic? It’s really about connection; listening to students getting to know their story and customizing the services for them so they can move forward, because we know that students come to the college to succeed. They don’t come to us to fail, but along the way they’re going to need some type of guys to get to the finish line.

Paul Fain: Thanks for that, Linda. You really can’t say enough about the childcare and the culture of caring pieces from all the data we’ve seen so let’s turn to Dr. Gallin Jez. Any barriers that you are particularly interested in in California or beyond are ones that you think might not be getting enough tension?

Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Yes, and thank you also for having me and I really appreciate Strada and Paul your focus on the role of higher education in the economy and jobs and bringing more attention to students that aren’t the traditional straight from high school college students. You know it took a pandemic, I think, to make a lot of people pay attention to this, but I’m happy that we can seize the moment hopefully to get some traction on some changes.

Like Dr. Garcia was saying, I think you know we can point to a lot of the personal and practical reasons, students, you know may leave higher education or may not want to return. You know, like family responsibilities, they need to work as you found. I think at the key is really restructuring our higher institutions to support students at completion and focusing less on sort of what can the institution do to meet students where they are and we know a lot of things about this recession already. 

We have a good sense of what things are going to look like perhaps when we get out of it that you know folks without college degrees were in industries that were heavily impacted.

You know, after this pandemic, a lot of these jobs may not come back, they’ll look a lot different and higher ed has a major role in what our recovery looks like. So we need to figure out what needs to happen. We’ve done a lot of work and California Competes’s done a lot of work on what do adult students need.

How does higher and better serve older students, particularly displaced workers? And, like you found, affordability is our primary barrier as often discussed. But the nuances for adults often receive a lot less attention and California is known for its robust state financial aid program but it’s much harder for adults to get financial aid in California. Our Cal Grants, which is our state financial aid program, mostly go to younger students it’s they’re restricted to recent high school graduates and students younger than 28 which effectively shuts out older students and those that would be impacted by the economy in the middle of this. 

So ending those limits, those eligibility requirements would be some significant support for students. We also know that these potential graduates are more likely to be people of color and you know this past year has made it painfully clear the the challenges that Black and Latinx and Asian Americans face. Discrimination in everyday lives, and I think higher ed institutions have acknowledged this and released statements around this.

I think a lot more can be done for by institutions to look at their own policies and practices and how that discrimination and racism and violence extends into their own institutions. Because it can be, you know, just hard to wake up in the morning and face the day and to think that you’re going to balance everything else out and go to school. And I’m confident that this extends to Native Americans ut you know the data can be so limited for that population. 

But I just want to recognize when we do have data on Native Americans, you know, we need to spend a lot more time focusing on sort of how we can focus resources and think about how racism impacts this population also. I think Dr. Garcia mentioned broadband and internet access, this is a huge one. I’m glad it’s getting so much attention now and another thing related to that is digital literacy, I think it doesn’t get enough attention.

You know, because the pandemic so much went online, including nearly all of higher ED and a lot of it is going to stay online and not just higher ed but you know telehealth or grocery shopping or whatever else. Those without college degrees have much lower rates of digital literacy than those with college degrees, so we need to also think about our role in ensuring that when we shift to online that we’re not exacerbating inequities that already existed.

Paul Fain: Thanks for that. I also appreciate where you started with the fact that a lot of these inequities were here before, and it took the pandemic to get people to notice, while also you know worsening them. Let’s take a step back, though, as we look at the great reconnection with some optimism. I’m just trying to get a sense of the scale of the crisis that you both are feeling.

In what sort of optimism you have or how worried you are frankly, about whether or not, as people kind of reconnect in their attitude shift toward their lives as the last year and a half fades away? You know, are they going to come back, are they going to change their minds, is that intent to enroll going to come back up? Let’s start with Linda on that.

Dr. Linda Garcia: Absolutely, Paul. The crisis is huge, it’s notable community colleges are feeling it and it will take time for enrollment to get back up. But community colleges, they’ve been hit before, and they have a commitment to student access and even though the decline has been great for a lot of colleges, and the average is like 10 percent somewhere beyond 20 percent there were very few colleges that their enrollment increase.

There are struggles, but we are optimistic that students will eventually return but we have a role to do. We play a part in that, college leaders have a play a part, to make sure those students come back and it’s about personal connections; contacting those students, those who were disrupted, those who stopped out.

But we also don’t want to let a good crisis go to waste. We hear that all the time. So what can we do with this crisis? It’s about looking at the data. You know as you really presented the data today, those are conversation starters, for us to have with our colleagues. Especially at the Center, that’s what we do. We never say we’re in the business of service, we’re in the business of conversation starters, especially with food insecurity. Students can’t learn if they’re hungry or if they don’t have a place to sleep. 

So if we had data like that, we know students are experiencing that, but we actually knew the percentage of students who were experiencing that because of the COVID pandemic. Think about the support services that can be created that can be structured that can be redesigned into the student engagement making sure that they have those boundaries. I mean we interviewed so many students in our focus groups. Students tell us you know a lot of times ‘I just don’t know what’s being offered at the college or what the College is to support my experience there’. 

So it’s about communication letting the students know what’s being offered to them and I’m just going to throw another data point that we learned at the Center just hearing from the students.

In our COVID report, we asked students if they knew about the support services to help them cope with the pandemic. You want to take a guess of the percentage of students in this survey that we did that said they didn’t know? 

You know the actual data point was 57 percent, 5 percent of students said no. So, to us, we felt that it might be a communication challenge, because we know colleges are doing everything that they can to really connect to the students. What was mentioned, with the inequities, so if we don’t have that data, how can we have those conversations and how can we make sure students are connected to the appropriate resources to help them move forward?

Paul Fain: Thanks for that. Let’s turn it to Su Jin on kind of the scope of the problem we’re facing.

Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Yeah, I mean this crisis looms so large because there are so many folks who stand and miss out on completing a college education. I think you know before the crisis, we had big concerns and now with the crisis. And it’s not just adults who are stranded with some college degree, but even recent high school graduates are opting out, the drop in enrollment in community colleges that Andrew noted.

I’m very worried and I think if we don’t act quickly, this historic crisis will only get worse, and you know Andrew noted the questions around the value around higher education and, if anything, the data seems to be pretty clear that higher ed pays off. You know I could share a bunch of statistics on sort of the differences, and you know earnings between those of the high school graduate and not.

You know, the types of jobs that people have, and you know dependence on public assistance having health insurance. You know, who gets COVID. I mean just sort of in every way we see the differences between or that the value of having a high school or a college degree.The thing that gives me hope is that recent data, but you know, a study that Calfironia Education put out and Strada has put out and start to put out at a national survey also that found that students want to return to higher education or want to go to higher education, when we look at sort of a two year span. 

We found that one in five Californians want to enroll in higher education, the next two years.

And the Strada data, you know look similar and I don’t know how much people follow California policy, but we have a historic surplus. The governor’s proposal that came out last Friday really target huge, transformative, systemic reforms. So you know that’s clearly just the first step, and it has to pass, it has to get implemented well. But I do have a lot of hope that there is this energy to do something big and new and, at least in California, we have the funds to do it this year.

So you know I’m full of hope and we are California repeats we are working our hardest and our fastest to sort of process these things and help make connections to the Governor’s Office, to our state legislature, to institutional leaders, to make sure that they’re able to act quickly and data and research.

Paul Fain: Go ahead, please.

Dr. Linda Garcia: I’m sorry, Paul. Can I just add to that? I absolutely would suggest, I mean she mentioned acting. We have to act because you know if we create, you know that saying that ‘If you build it, they will come’. To a certain extent, but what is our role in making sure that we’re intentional, you know with that acting to connect those students back to us?

At one time they came to us, they left, but yet we have to just motivate them to come back, really get to know what they’re experiencing. It’s really about connection and so if we don’t, if we aren’t intentional on our actions, think about the students that may not return.

Paul Fain: To that end, I just wanted to ask Su Jin, in the budget discussion in California, if there are any aid reforms in the works or that you’d like to see that would make it easier for adult students to access support snape?

Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Yeah, I mean the past 15,18 months have been a bit of a whirlwind. So let’s see at the end of 2019, I mean there has long been recognition that that our Cal Grant state financial aid system needs reform. So at the end of 2019, a group of, there was a work group we participated in that work group together to identify how we modernize our Cal Grant. That proposal was ready, you know March 2020 which was not great timing so as COVID hit, the recession hit. 

You know, we had a huge impact on our budget and that sort of was tabled. Come this year, the state’s economy is booming and that sort of, I haven’t I haven’t had a chance to dig in on sort of why the huge surplus, but my gut is the rich got richer. And we have a lot more money, and so there are proposals back on the table that look a little bit more robust than even; we were thinking in January 2021 to eliminate some of the eligibility requirements that I flagged really that we’ve been pushing on to get rid of the age requirement.

To open up congregants that adults have more access to have more what we call competitive cal grants which typically go to otter students who are enrolled in career technical education.

We’re also seeing, and you know the governor’s proposal he proposed a billion dollars for a grant program for displaced workers to access college or to start businesses and there’s also 4 billion for housing. 

So in California, housing is a real issue and we have huge issues of homelessness and housing insecurity for students and this isn’t just for the traditional college student, but you can imagine, for someone with children with a partner, you know. A dorm doesn’t isn’t appealing and for Community colleges in California.

They rarely have housing and those that do tend to be the world institutions that bill housing, so that you know students in this sort of wider geographic area have access to the Community college. Now there’s a growing recognition that we need more college housing and we need it to serve. The students that are wanting to enroll and enroll our institutions.

One thing that, you know, we applaud the governor for in his proposals he’s also had a focus on targeting these investments towards the highest needs students, which we think will really maximize the resources so, for example, for the housing proposal, the way that the money will be distributed will be based on institutions share of pell students, pell grant eligible students. 

So students that enroll, more low income students will get more funding for housing and so we’re really excited about that. But there’s a number of things there’s also like a learner aligned employment program to help support more paid internships and paid work-based learning for students which we you know think is critical for for students, particularly first generation students who don’t have strong professional networks and need that tied to the workplace, while they’re still enrolled in college.

I can go on and on, but there’s I feel like in California, a lot of great stuff that’s being proposed, and so we are just hopeful that it gets executed and implemented well. 

Paul Fain: We’ll all be watching that budget process so i’m going to start turning to audience questions and one for Andrew but the other panelists as well. Just to kind of dig a little deeper on any significant patterns that you’re seeing, in the strata data or elsewhere on disruptive learners and their choices shifting based on demographics, or even prior and credentials.

Andrew Hanson: Well, we reported the agent race differences, because that’s where we saw the largest differences across the metrics that we analyze. We certainly look, we always look at gender, we tend to look at age, based on you know, generation millennials. We didn’t look at, we’re unable to get a you know solid income break in this case necessarily but that’s something else we usually tend to look at it. 

As the folks with less education as you might suspect are tend to be those who are pursuing education, who had their education, their learning disrupted. So those are some of the more interesting patterns that we’ve seen but we’re early on in this broader project of trying to really, really understand deeply. The disruption that’s taken place and trying to reach many of these learners but that’s what i’d say, well, we know so far.

Paul Fain: Anything you want to add, either of you? There is no pressure, I’ve got another question to jump to but just in terms of surprises and the data who’s being most disrupted? No? Alright, no problem. So we’ve got lots to cover, so you know I’ve been watching as everybody the kind of growing interest in non traditional pathways, shorter term programs.

You know boot camps, one year certificates or learn and earn opportunities. This question here, why are colleges jumping on this opportunity? I think some are. The reality is that not all jobs need a degree, but all need skills. It seems that colleges are stuck in thinking that degrees are the only way.

Anyone want to, let’s actually start with Linda. I know you work with a lot of community colleges that are pretty active in the space. Anything you’re seeing, any emerging trends?

Dr. Linda Garcia: That’s a great question, I really do believe that this pandemic has forced us and positioned us to start really considering, redesigning our programs or maybe motivating students to go into certain programs. For instance, you know we’re looking at students and with other partners that we have the inequities. Which subpopulations are going into what programs and how long is it taking and how much are they spending? So that’s really helping us redesign how we have communications with the students as well. 

Someone said in the notes, right here, you know higher education, they are so slow to change. But let me tell you this pandemic has amplified, has put a light on this. So now, that we’re hearing from students, students need to come to us, that they need something soon. They can’t be there with us for a long time. It’s having those conversations, especially when students come to us and they think they’re going to attain their goal in two years, but they’re going part time.

You know. we’re like okay that’s not gonna work so let’s make sure you have a plan that it’s crystal clear. Think about these programs. Let’s help you redesign it to make sure that you know your entry to completion, and how long it’s going to take. But those conversations are evolving right now, and I think community college presidents, they’re starting to look at that as well, so there’s no clear answer for that, in short, but the pandemic has made us think about it.

Paul Fain: It’s hard to generalize about anything in higher education, including short term programs or alternative pathways to career. But Su Jun, though, given the interest there, and some of the policy discussions which we could spend a whole hour on there, what are your thoughts about alternative short term pathways and how to do them right without tracking folks into credentials that don’t have labor market value?

Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Yeah this is, I think this is one of those things where it makes so much sense to figure out. And it’s I think just really challenging too, you know, on the one hand, for many adults. You don’t have a ton of time to commit out of like to be pulled out of the labor market to get your credential so you want to build it as quickly as possible and if that’s not possible, you want to be able to keep working while you do it 

So, I think the real challenges are around the questions of equity. So how do we ensure them?

You know, Black and Latinx students don’t end up doing the short term credentials that have sort of less labor market value or a shorter lifespan for the labor market. They’ll have to return in three years and do another short term credential right. And these are things that I think we’re still figuring out like, how do we set that up more intentionally and it’s something that California Competes is working on, to figure out. How do we set up equitable career pathways? 

You know we’re really thinking that we need to really start with the questions of equity and designing versus, starting with the career pathway and then try and tweak for equity afterwards. 

And then thinking about some of the other like non traditional learning options: work-based learning, online programs.

You know, I was, I was a faculty member for 11 years, and you know a lot of this good work has to be driven by faculty and the really hard part is faculty just have a lot on our plates, so I think.

like anyone talks about the leadership you know, whatever 80 percent of your work should be proactive not reactive. Lots of times they just don’t have that privilege, because we are focused on the courses that we’re delivering on the next semester and plus the burdens, maybe burdens isn’t the right word.

But the sort of our work that’s beyond the teaching component around shared governance, around helping that institution function. So to think about, you know,I’m going to set up work-based learning that requires me as a faculty member to now identify who are my employer partners thatcan offer this, how do I ensure it integrates with the learning outcomes of the program and the course?

And then, there’s additional sort of perhaps, requirements like insurance requirements so now the fact this is literally something I dealt with in our program is now I’ve got to make sure the employer has the right insurance to have interns. And that requires me to then like walk their facility. I mean, these are things where it’s very easy if you’re a faculty member to say like this is so great, but God I don’t have an extra like 5,10 hours this week to go to the site and walk through and then do this with my, however many students, in my program.

It’s a really big commitment that I think institutions, the state has to make and giving faculty the bandwidth and capacity to do this work if we prioritize that. We can’t just say ‘do work based learning,here’s a $1,000 stipend’. That doesn’t give me time in my day, and so I think there’s just a complexity and I think we’re getting there to figure it out frankly.

And the same with online programs, and you know everyone shifted to delivering courses online, but that’s you know I think everyone is also saying that like that’s not the same as having like this emergency is shift to like zoom classes, is not the same as like a good online program.

But, even prior to COVID, when I taught online hybrid courses, you know I did my best, but now in this past year I have like seen and learn that what I did was not actually great teaching. 

You know, telling my students to go log in and answer five discussion prompts to one of their classmates, it’s actually a really bad way to do it, but I frankly did not know. So I think a lot of this is empowering and allowing faculty to have the capacity to lead an instruction and lead around these non-traditional learning ways or options.

Andrew Hanson: Hey, Paul.

Dr. Linda Garcia: Hey.

Paul Fain: Let’s go to Linda and then Andrew.

Dr. Linda Garcia: Oh no, it’s just really short. I think Su Jin raised an excellent point about faculty. So when I look at the community college perspective, think about the percentage of faculty who are part time and who are not involved in this conversation. When we did a report on the guided pathways, over 50 percent of the faculty said that they were not involved in those conversations of the redesign.

And so, they also said that they needed support like professional development, like How do we move this forward but really that hard time faculty if they’re not involved in the conversations.

Think about how much more of a struggle, it is to change the culture, you know, to make sure those new programs come into place or they’re redesigned and shorten you know for the students. I’m sorry, Andrew go ahead.

Andrew Hanson: Just to pull back a little bit because I recognize this. Dr Garcia discussed a lot, there is a decent amount of innovation, taking place within traditional higher ed, but if we pull back and just think about the entire system. The way we’ve set up education and training learning by design is based on a 20th century model of you graduate from high school, you go to school, then you go into the workforce and you learn through working for 40 years. 

That system is completely obsolete and traditional higher ed has gotten by I think you know, up until the pandemi you know sort of based on inertia. But now, with the pandemic, all of these forces are kind of coming together and so Paul, I think it was a conversation with you last year, where you asked me whether we might be at an inflection point with respect to how people, how the entire system works and where people pursue learning.

I mean, I think that our data certainly supports that it doesn’t it almost doesn’t matter if we, the institutions that don’t innovate that don’t come. You know update based on what learners are asking for. You know they’re going to be in real trouble going forward, and you know there’s going to be other people, whether it’s employers or you know non-college providers who are stepping in and serving these learners.

I think about, I mean there’s a short term versus the length of the program piece, but a lot of it that people are asking for, especially if you think about many of these working adult learners who are- someone used the word time poverty recently,that really captures it well. Like the in- person experience and the need to travel across town for like two hours in the day. You know versus having a you know well designed learning experience that I can pursue at home, a balance, you know my competing, caregiving, family responsibilities. 

I mean you can see why that’s so desirable on the part of you know, these these working learners and so we have yet to set up the systems architecture, the infrastructure to really build a system that serves learning, working and learning adults well and there’s a huge, huge opportunity there, which is taking us a while to get there.

Paul Fain: Speaking of time poverty, I think the pandemic really hit home to folks like me- privileged folks how hard it is when your life gets disrupted and I literally cannot imagine having had a five year old home for a long time, how hard it must be for working parents who are not as privileged.

You know Linda, you mentioned the information gap how hard it is to get into the hands of learners what they need to do to get where they want to get. We have a couple of questions related to that and a couple suggests whereworks, what role could there be for partnerships with employers with workforce boards? Or what role could state and federal policy makers play in helping with career navigation other information gap closing tools, Linda? Anything you’re seeing out there that’s promising?

Dr. Linda Garcia: That’s a great question, so what can employers do in our role? We look at what community college can do and they’re working closely with employers. It’s really about how do you setting up those partnerships connecting programs to employers like students and internships, but making sure they’re involved in those conversations.

But in addition to that, what we’ve seen at colleges, is the intentionality, but when they’re doing partnerships now you have to drill down and really talk to the student and understand what their needs are but understand what their experiences and their challenges. So colleges are doing something, such as I’m having conversations, such as what is your life like right now, at this moment?

Because they’re having conversations with the importance as well because they’re going to place them in internships, they need to know that can you balance, you know your college coursework with an internship? Really looking at the student holistically not just what their experiences are at the College, but to help understand who they are, that person at their struggles.

Paul Fain: Su Jin, anything you want to add there?

Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Yeah I think the role around work based learning for employers to you know, introduce, expand internships, apprenticeships, cooperative education. I think that is really, really critical and make sure that we don’t have unpaid internships, those are you know exacerbate issues of equity.

You know, employers can provide tuition assistance or offer free discounted tuition, allow employees to have flexibility in their schedules to attend courses. 

You know, do their coursework. We also think about sort of how can we really deeply connect authentic partnerships between higher ED and employers. One of the really valuable things is employers can provide input on sort of how programs are developed, how are they structured what is in the curriculum, what are the learning outcomes.

And while faculty are experts in that, sometimes we’re not super well connected to the labor market frankly and I taught into professional programs, which is pretty closely tied, but there were things like you know what is like what’s data analytics teaching now? What are the current software statistical software packages that our graduates should know that would be really useful?

We just recently spoke with leadership at the California Chamber of Commerce and for example, we have learned that there is a construction management program that required calculus and so many students did not enroll in that program or many students did not complete.

But the leading sort of employers said that calculus was not a skill that was needed for graduates.And this makes sense, clearly and in fields where there’s a close tie between the program of study and a career specific career.

But we can’t depend on students, I think, to elevate this information, because the students that we’re targeting don’t necessarily see themselves as belonging in higher ed and so when they see that oh calculus is part of this program they’re not going to reach out to their faculty member and say like you know why is calculus practice they’ll just think.I’m not college material, I’m not construction management material.

So I think this is a really important place where employers can step in where there’s more of a power balance between employers and institutions, but that you know clearly takes a lot of work for faculty and employers to do that work like, and you know employers probably don’t want to look at college’s curriculum right? So we have to figure out like, how do we seed and nurture and energize these sort of what we call post secondary employer compacts.

I think it’s really critical. One thing that’s been happening in California has been trying to connect these disparate systems that the workforce development system and our you know our workforce development boards, a higher ed institutions particularly Community colleges and K 12 but also our social services.

Because you know many of the students that we’re serving can be engaged know like what can, what can the American job Center do for students. Can they help pay for scrubs for nursing students and get rid of some of those barriers? If we know students are low income and qualify for Cal Grant, is that the same sort of eligibility requirement that would qualify them for our food and nutrition assistance program Cal Works?

So I think the better we can connect these systems and the better we can do for students, so we really push on how can we, how can the state operate better and take the onus off the student to know about the different resources. So that it’s just naturally happens and the student can focus on the things that we really need them to build, which are you know their skills to engage in higher ed and not to be sort of a master around eligibility requirements and student programs. So that’s what we have been really focused on, and I think employers can have a lot of power, so they can really help push some of these conversations, because they will hear from their staff or their prospective staff and higher ed may not, the Cal Works office may not.

So I think that’s a critical role for employers.

Paul Fain: Linda, I want to give you a chance to respond to some of what Su Jin said there in particular, and can go anywhere you want there. But to me, the question of you know I get that employers on the whole might not want to get involved in college curriculum change. But you know, given the hiring problems that they’re complaining about broadly you know they need to and I guess, I wonder, from your side of things now are you seeing an inflection point in the way ,I mean ommunity colleges have been mindful of employers needs throughout their history, but is there a shift among faculty, in particular, to do more?

I mean you’ve got a fast changing economy so it’s it’s not easy to do right now.

Dr. Linda Garcia: Right so just looking at the state of Texas, there’s a Texas success Center and they just had their Institute, and it was they focus on transfer, but they also focus on the workforce as well. And so all the colleges in the State of Texas, they brought a team to this Institute and if you’re in Texas and you’re listening today I’m sure you can relate to what I’m about to say. So, they talked about employers, they looked at their data.

Some colleges didn’t even know what data we look at in regards to the labor market. And in fact once we look at the data okay, these are programs, that we need to establish to create. Okay, how do we do that? We need a set of partnerships, what does that mean? We have to create an advisory board to invite those people into the conversation and invite them to the cause. Let’s also go in this system.

Let’s bring them into our classes, maybe in our zoom classes in this pandemic, well because there needs to be some type of relationship, for me. And so let me tell you, it was an eye opening experience to look at the data, because a lot of the Faculty like students, they have so many things that they’re juggling and even looking at the data it was eye opening for those who had never seen it.

So it’s about involving them and making sure that they feel included, making sure everyone has a safe so into creating these programs. But it has to be intentional about creating the environment and so it’s really important for the leaders of community colleges, I’m sure for years to set that tone and create an environment that it’s inclusive for people to to be involved in these conversations.

Paul Fain: Well, sadly we’re gonna have to wrap it here, I had a feeling this one will go fast, but I have to say you all did a fantastic job of covering a lot of information on these super important topics.

So to everybody who attended, thank you, we are going to send around you’ll be receiving a link of a recording from this and in the meantime, and going forward, I hope, you’ll check in with the word California Competes in the Center for Community College Student Engagement are doing on these important issues. As well as Strada’s continuing push to get good data on what’s happening out there, so thanks to you all for joining, and we hope to see you again soon. Cheers.Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Thanks for having me.

In the news from Strada

July 16, 2021
July 28, 2021 | Examining the Value of Nondegree Credentials

The number of organizations offering nondegree credentials is proliferating, and interest from learners in these credentials — certificates, certifications, and licenses — is growing. But even though these credentials are now in the spotlight, we have relatively sparse data on outcomes. To provide more understanding, through a Strada-Gallup survey we asked more than 14,000 adults across the nation about earnings, job satisfaction, and perceptions about the worth and benefits of nondegree credentials. This month’s Strada Public Viewpoint release compares learner outcomes across degree, nondegree, and combined pathways. By examining programs of different lengths and the experiences of different populations, we aim to provide insights that inform our understanding of the value and potential limitations of nondegree credentials. Join Strada researchers and expert panelists at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 28, for a discussion about the findings and implications for the field. As part of the ongoing Strada Public Viewpoint research started in March 2020, Strada Education Network has talked to tens of thousands of people in the United States about their experiences with work and education during the pandemic. The research is intended to inform education and training providers, policymakers, and employers who are helping people complete valuable and purposeful education pathways.