On Thursday, October 15, America Forward will launch “Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential,” a briefing book intended for 2016 Presidential candidates and policymakers at all levels of government who aspire to unlock the potential of all Americans and make our nation, once again, the land of opportunity. This week, America Forward will be featuring solutions from our Coalition of social innovators to address the five challenges of our time laid out in “Moving America Forward.” Today, Lexi Barrett, Policy Director at America Forward, addresses the “Market-Able America” challenge and discusses how America Forward Coalition organizations are making postsecondary education more responsive to changing needs of students and demands of the economy.
For decades, America led the world in the percentage of citizens with higher education degrees. The American higher education system is often called the envy of the world. And yet today, not only are we falling in the international ranks in terms of percentage of citizens with advanced credentials, but employers are struggling to find workers with the skills they need. Our country has seen impressive progress in raising high school graduation rates, but we know that a high school education is no longer enough to guarantee success in today’s economy. By 2020, 65% of all jobs will require postsecondary education, far above the 45% of Americans today who have degrees and credentials. Any progress in the K-12 education system will be hollow unless high school graduates can connect to career pathway programs that lead to marketable experiences and credentials.
At the same time, today’s college students don’t resemble their counterparts from previous decades. College students are more diverse than ever before in terms of age, race, background, and socio-economic status. And more students are balancing competing responsibilities with their coursework, such as employment and family demands. To ensure they succeed and our nation remains economically competitive, we need new policies, systems, and innovations in our higher education system. And yet our nation’s higher education institutions remain largely frozen in place—designed to meet the needs of young, full-time students from financially stable backgrounds.
Innovation could transform higher education and put more Americans on a path to a marketable credential. Fortunately, we are seeing bright spots of transformation emerge across the nation. Members of the America Forward Coalition are achieving results in their communities to get more students to and through college.
- 10,000 Degrees plants college awareness seeds early and follows on with mentors, scholarships, and other supports, are making it possible for tens of thousands of low-income students to apply to college, receive financial aid, and earn a postsecondary degree.
- Beyond 12 works at the intersection of K-12 and higher education to provide personalized student coaching service and longitudinal student tracking platform to ensure high schools and colleges have the data needed to equip all students to succeed in college.
- College Possible engages AmeriCorps members to coach low-income high school students, enabling these students to not only make it to college, but gradate at ten times the rate of their peers.
- With its integrated, data-driven approach, Bottom Line not only helps low-income, first-generation student gain admission to college, they also continue to work with their students upon arrival on campus to ensure they have the tools and support needed to graduate.
These organizations and many more are making a difference in the lives of students—ensuring that they have the skills and resources they need to succeed in higher education. If our nation wants to regain the most enviable higher education system in the world, it is imperative that government learns from these innovations and take them to scale. In Moving America Forward, we will provide policymakers with actions that can be taken to make this a reality.