COVID-19 is creating a new “lost class.” Here’s how professional and graduate education can help


COVID-19 is creating a new “lost class.” Here’s how professional and graduate education can help

In the spring, we highlighted the potential for recent college graduates to struggle in a labor market constricted by a simultaneous recession and pandemic. Our experience during the Great Recession suggested these newly minted bachelor’s degree-holders would struggle with unemployment and underemployment—and that the effects of graduating into a recession could linger for years in delaying promotions and raises, creating what we called a “lost class.”


unemployment rate for those 16-24 years of age
unemployment rate for those 16-24 years of age

Today, our economy shows little indication of a quick or straight-forward recovery. The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-old workers remains about double the rate for the general population. Plus, real time labor market data has shown large declines in job postings, indicating employers are holding back on hiring new talent until a broader recovery seems more certain. Amid this uncertainty, colleges and universities retain a unique opportunity to support their recent graduates and ensure a smoother transition into fruitful, lifelong careers. Here are a couple of strategies leaders of professional and graduate education programs can use to serve recent grads.

Design intensive experiences for upskilling t-shaped professionals

Employers seeking productive workers and future leaders desire graduates with complementary skills more than ever. The liberal arts education remains one of the best means of preparation for long and successful careers. But recent graduates also need strong technical competencies to capitalize on working opportunities in growing industries like advanced technology.

If you’re looking for quick ways to engage alumni, consider a post-graduate intensive that complements a liberal arts major with a deep dive into the essentials of business and entrepreneurship. At College of the Holy Cross, certificates in business essentials and entrepreneurship allow graduating seniors to build competency in Microsoft Excel, prepare for interviews, and build a network with alumni across fields.

These intensive experiences aren’t limited to business or technical training for your liberal arts grads. Engineers’ and coders’ employers lament that their technical wizzes lack some of the essential skills necessary for career growth. While bootcamps that focus on soft skill development are unlikely to attract students, emerging leadership programs can provide support in communication, critical thinking, and influencing others.

Build seamless pathways for students to enroll in professionally-oriented grad programs

Accelerated master’s degrees in 4+1 or 3+2 formats have long histories at many universities, but they often exist in narrow curricular pathways that appeal to only a small handful of students, like an accounting 4+1. But given the unsteady labor market, and the state of competition and saturation in graduate education, these accelerated pathways hold the promise of better preparing your existing students for professional life while boosting graduate enrollment.

Clark University maintains an accelerated master’s degree program that attracts almost 15 percent of their total graduate enrollment from recent undergrads. The accelerated master’s program attracts 60 to 70 new graduate students per year by:

  • Promoting professional fields: While 4+1 options exist in academic fields like history, the most popular programs include a Master of Public Administration and an MS in Communications, both fields with professional applicability likely to resonate with liberal arts grads.

  • Offering enticing tuition discounts: All Clark alumni are eligible for a 50 percent tuition discount, creating an attractive incentive for recent graduates to stay. Given the growing saturation of the master’s market, this discount is actually a more cost-effective student acquisition tool than marketing to non-affiliated graduate prospects.

  • Ensuring students access high-quality work experiences: Accelerated master’s students are required to complete an internship the summer after their bachelor’s graduation, and program staff support finding internships. This ensures students can reflect and engage with program peers who bring years of professional experience to the program. 

Clark University’s Accelerated Degree Program

Tuition discounting
Provides undergraduates with 50% discount, rising to free tuition for those with 3.4 GPA

Accelerated credit accumulation
Allows students to accrue graduate-level credits in their senior year

Institutional partnerships
Partners with local baccalureate institutions to provide pathways into professional graduate programs

Require work experience or internships
Assists recent undergraduates in gaining professional experience to complement their area of study

As competition in the graduate market intensifies, many institutions will look for ways to expand their prospect pool to new audiences. While that approach can be a critical component of your growth strategy, it’s also important to make sure that you’re not overlooking some of your most loyal and familiar prospects—your own alumni. 

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