UPDATE: On April 2 we hosted a webinar with Noah Brown, CEO of ACCT, where we discussed the topics in the article below.
“It behooves our colleges to move away from the…’cafeteria approach’ of program offerings,” Brown said. “We ought to focus on being more strategic,… targeting our programs and services around real [careers], and [getting] students the information…they need to understand how to make intelligent choices.” Doing so will help colleges “get more people better trained and better aligned with real jobs, now and in the future.”
You can watch the full webinar below. Download the slides here.
As the US puts the recession further behind and community colleges continue to struggle with enrollment, retention, and completion rates, it becomes clear that, well, it’s not just the economy, stupid. A major problem is the information gap looming between students and careers. Young people simply don’t know how a college education can help them gain a solid career, so they’re hesitant to enroll. Others sign up, but drop out later. They’re afraid of wasting their time and wracking up debt for an uncertain career—and who can blame them?
Community colleges play a key role in closing this gap. Here at EMSI, after working with hundreds of schools over the past 15 years, we’ve made a key discovery: When a college engages students by clearly demonstrating 1) the connection between its programs and solid employment and 2) the return on investment that students will gain by attending school, then overall student success—from college to career—goes up. Why? Because students have the information they need to choose smart vocational goals, select the education that is right for them, and stay motivated.
But to close an information gap, you first need the right information. Too often, colleges themselves grapple with these issues without an accurate compass for the labor market. Should they counsel a student to be a nuclear medicine technologist or a sonogram tech? A machinist or a mechanical engineer? After all, every region is different and has different workforce demands—and fulfilling those needs is especially important for community colleges. And how can colleges show that an education with them is worth it, anyway? Anecdotal evidence only goes so far.
Career Coach: Showing the Connection Between Programs & Careers
EMSI’s mission is to provide colleges with the labor market data they need to close this gap. We built Career Coach to tackle the first point: showing your students and website visitors exactly how your programs connect to solid regional careers. Is someone interested in web development? Dentistry? Mechanical engineering? Career Coach shows them the local jobs available—and how to get there. If students want that job, they should check out this degree. Career Coach also reveals which jobs aren’t so hot, due to lack of demand either in the region or in the nation.
Over the past six years, 130 colleges and universities across the US have used Career Coach to help give their students a career vision and pursue that career with a clear strategy. Minnesota State Community and Technical College targeted non-returning students with a campaign that included Career Coach. By the end, roughly 60 students, armed with confidence in defined and achievable goals, re-enrolled at the college. Miami Dade College uses Career Coach with new students immediately, ensuring that students begin their studies with a plan instead of waiting to figure it out in their second or third year or, worse, dropping out altogether because they don’t know why they’re pursuing a degree in the first place.
Economic Impact Study: Demonstrating the Return on Investment
To help colleges with the second point, EMSI delivers economic impact studies that don’t simply calculate what colleges spend but also estimate the value of education—including the value for the students themselves. Our recent national EIS, commissioned by the American Association of Community Colleges, analyzed the return on investment for community college students across the states.
According to the study, community college completers will receive a stream of higher wages that will continue to grow throughout their lives. The average graduate with an associate’s degree, for example, will receive $10,700 more each year than they would have had they completed only high school. This amounts to roughly $470,800 in higher income over a working lifetime. To think of it another way: After taking into account the time value of money and all the costs of getting an education, students will receive a cumulative $4.80 back in future higher wages for every $1 they spend, yielding a return on investment of $3.80.
The moral of the story? Like most good things, college is a story of planting now, harvesting later. For many students, the fruit is worth the investment—and the wait.
These are the kinds of stats that resonate with students. The more community colleges use data to connect students with careers and demonstrate the positive return on investment that awaits graduates, the more students have the intel they need to make smart decisions.
Don’t hide your programs (or your value) under a bushel. If you are interested in Career Coach or an economic impact study for your school, contact Gabriel Rench: firstname.lastname@example.org, 208.892.5576. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.