This Week’s Trends in Education and Technology (April 27-May 3)
[The Week in Education and Technology is a weekly summary of news, events, and ideas related to education.]
Nearly 100% of the jobs created during the economic recovery went to workers with postsecondary education training. That training really begins in high school. The work of the future will require a robust system of lifelong learning and high school may just be the fulcrum in that system, best positioned to make the necessary profound changes across the system.
Heather E. McGowan — Future of Work Strategist, GettingSmart
Things That Caught My Attention
The quote above is one example of an increased focus on meeting the challenge of workforce readiness and career training. Heather McGowan’s post at GettingSmart gets to the heart of one transition taking place in U.S. education and society.
Right now, the university degree is the new high school diploma. It is the best proxy we have, but it remains insufficient. Four out of five CEOs say that skills gaps in creativity and problem solving make hiring difficult and nearly half of job tasks may be lost to automation within the next two decades. While we have substantial technical skills gaps we also have a profound shortage of non-technical, uniquely human skills such as empathy, social intelligence, creativity, communication and judgment among others. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicted that without changes to our postsecondary education system immediately, our economy will be short 5 million workers by 2020. This is not new information but our responses to these challenges are insufficient. Merely pushing more people on the existing factory pipeline through higher education is not working. Nor are efforts to retrain those displaced in short-term skill acquisition boot camps. We need to start thinking differently.
Of course, workforce preparation doesn’t end with high school. Colleges and universities remain a primary conduit for educating and placing adults in the workforce. One of the key challenges facing higher education and its students seeking employment? Working with companies to identify and address the skills students need to succeed professionally. As Ryan Craig, managing director of investment firm University Ventures and a panel participant at a conference for public-private partnerships in postsecondary education said, “Employers literally want to see that (graduates) have the skills they’re looking for so (they) can be productive in that job on day one. That’s hard and that requires a set of new and different initiatives (from universities and third parties).”
Affordability remains the perennially hot topic in higher education. We see it in efforts by Austin Community College’s expansion of zero-textbook-cost degrees and the University of Texas System’s new task force on reducing textbook and course materials costs. We also see it in new institutional models such as College Unbound. We also hear about it, though pretty much every available media channel, from 2020 presidential candidates, most of whom have an affordable or free-college plank in their platform (see this analysis of Elizabeth Warren’s plan). Not surprisingly, a recent poll/study shows fairy broad support for free-college programs among young people.
College readiness is another consistent topic in higher education, and Western Governors is rolling out a new academy to help those students who need extra preparation before they begin college courses.
Media, Publishing, and Cultural Trends
The big news in educational media this week was the announcement of a planned merger between Cengage and McGraw-Hill. If/when the merger is completed, the combined companies will be the second largest educational publisher (together their annual revenues exceed $3 billion).
Not surprisingly, there were a number of different takes on the announced merger, and not all of them were buying into the companies’ spin about how the move will allow them to serve students more affordably. Allistair Adam, at FlatWorld, provides a nice “insider’s view” of how such mergers work in the textbook world and what it could mean for different groups (investors, employees, faculty, and students. In addition, Jeffrey Young at EdSurge outlines how the merger might affect course materials.
By the way, the largest educational publisher, Pearson, has released its Q1 trading update, which provides additional insight into U.S course materials markets.