Today’s graduates face the bittersweet reality of earning a degree only to enter the workforce at a moment of unprecedented uncertainty. We are only beginning to grasp how the global pandemic will reshape life, work, and learning, yet the economic ripple effects can already be felt. Record unemployment insurance claims. Hiring freezes. Spikes in searches for “remote” work. Rescinded summer internships and job offers.
The fear and uncertainty felt by today’s students echoes that of the “lost class” of 1.4 million bachelor’s degree graduates who experienced under- or unemployment at the height of the Great Recession. These students were met with stiff competition for open positions not only from each other but also from candidates with significantly longer resumes. After several years of an unproductive job search, these students enrolled in short (and cost-effective) courses and programs offered by professional and adult education units, seeking a way to stand out to hiring managers or to qualify for in-demand fields that differed from their undergraduate program of study. These credentials provided flexible, accelerated, and affordable options to develop just-in-time skills and earn “just enough” education to navigate an ever-changing labor market.
Under- and unemployment by graduate year
These same courses, certificates, and accelerated post-baccalaureate credentials could prove an essential lifeline to today’s graduates. The design and marketing of these courses and credentials are paramount; it took several years before the Millennial “lost class” returned to universities for continued education, and even then, too few certificates found strong enrollments despite past economic pressures, suggesting availability alone is not enough.
Promote noncredit courses and certificates for professional development and engagement
Online noncredit courses (including MOOCs) that teach in-demand, employer-aligned skills or general management and leadership competencies should be proactively promoted to the Class of 2020 for summer enrollment. Consider inviting graduates to try a first course for free or highlight existing alumni discounts in a post-graduation email. Don’t underestimate the value of your personal enrichment portfolio. Many institutions are reporting increased interest in courses related to personal health and wellness, the science of happiness, foreign language development, or the arts as students seek meaning and connection during these difficult times.
Scale or develop online, accelerated post-baccalaureates in high-demand fields
These degrees are designed for students who seek entry into a high-demand profession but do not have the requisite work experience or academic background to gain entry into master’s degrees. Consider high-demand fields in the health professions or technology and analytics as good candidates for development and focus.
Online accelerated master’s or “mini” master’s degrees
Highlight existing one-year master’s degrees designed as “plus” programs to stack on a completed bachelor’s. In addition, modularized versions of popular master’s degrees proved popular among and beneficial to both early career professionals and working professionals who lost their jobs during the last recession. If you do not have an existing modularized, online master’s degree, focus development in high-enrollment, high-demand existing programs to increase the likelihood of return beyond the current crisis.