Complete understanding of the value proposition of postsecondary credentials and skills must… be based on a broader understanding of the skills gap.
JFF Vice President Michael Collins was the author of one of a collection of reports the Postsecondary Value Commission recently published as part of its effort to measure the returns students and society receive from investing in education after high school.
The overall goal of the project was to examine newly available data to propose a new approach for measuring the value of education after high school and to recommend actions that college and university leaders, policymakers, and students and families can take to improve those returns and make them more equitable.
In his report, Ensuring a More Equitable Future: Addressing Skills Gaps Through Multiple, Nuanced Solutions, Collins focuses on the ongoing debate about the nature of the “skills gap” in the labor market and what to do about it. He points out that the conventional narrative holds that our economy is experiencing a STEM-centered skills gap and therefore employers can’t find workers with the science, technology, engineering, and math competencies they need. The proposed solution is to identify the specific STEM skills employers need and ensure that postsecondary education and training programs are helping learners develop those skills.
However, Collins calls that a narrow view of the situation—one that overvalues STEM majors and oversimplifies both the problem and the solution. While it’s true that people with STEM degrees may be more likely than their fellow graduates to find well-paid jobs shortly after leaving college, he writes, there is “evidence that liberal arts and humanities graduates’ earnings tend to catch up across the longer arcs of their careers, and that they may be better prepared for a future of work in which continuous learning will be more important than specific occupations and specific technical skills.”
A “complete understanding of the value proposition of postsecondary credentials and skills,” he concludes, “must also be based on a broader understanding of the skills gap than the questionable assertion that employers cannot find qualified workers.”