Automation, technology, and de-industrialization has expanded the development of a knowledge-based economy.  The ability to think critically and creatively and obtain a higher degree is increasingly important compared to past generations.  Yet, recent statistics show that a higher ed degree is more important than ever, yet approximately 50% of students who go to college never end up earning a degree, and even more with thousands of dollars of debt and can’t find a job or have no idea what they want.  

Not graduating is based on many factors: being in the wrong major, the wrong college, having difficulties with time management and study skills, inaccurate expectations of college life, lacking direction or work ethic, etc.  It’s more crucial than ever to be on the right path, sooner, with guidance every step of the way.  The more you are in the right major and at the right college, the more you’ll enjoy your classes, the harder and smarter you will work, the better you’ll handle stress and hurdles, the higher your grades will be, and the more you will thrive and graduate.  Ultimately, the better you will do in your career, whatever path you will choose, which will lead to greater life satisfaction, success, and mostly likely money.  It’s a chain reaction, and it starts with choices you make as early as high school.

Furthermore, people are not staying in the same secure job for many years like before, and there is more job-hopping, making it necessary to have a variety of fresh skills and be adaptable to every new situation.  The workforce is becoming increasingly specialized as a result of more applicants with higher degrees, so employers are demanding more education that is more specific to the job compared to 30 years ago.  The same job that required only a high school diploma in 1970 now requires a Bachelors, and so forth.  Communication, writing, and technology skills are more important than ever.  There is also a new wave of research published on having grit, resilience, strong work ethic, as well as high levels of emotional intelligence as essential factors in determining success.  Therefore, it’s important to have clarity on your values, work preferences, interests, and personality in order to make a more targeted decision with confidence and purpose.

Changes Resulting from the Covid-19 Pandemic:

More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and undoubtedly will shift this paradigm for years to come.  According to a recent NY Times article, “the coronavirus pandemic hit at a time when American higher education, which employs about three million people nationwide, was already suffering from a host of financial problems. Many liberal arts colleges have struggled to meet enrollment goals in recent years because of rising tuition costs, concerns about student debt, and [increased competition for students resulting from] a shrinking population of young people.”  Currently, students are now delaying their college admissions decisions or debating whether they should even attend at all, especially if online classes are the only option.  The economy is plummeting, which historically has led to less job opportunities and a greater need to boost academic credentials.  Colleges are more desperate for students, and the tuition they pay, than ever.  According to a recent Buffalo News article, “nearly one in five [college students] are uncertain about their plans for re-enrolling in the fall or definitely are not going at all.  Adding to the unpredictability is the fact that highly selective colleges and universities are digging much deeper into their admission waiting lists of students.”  This ends up being a prime advantage for you.

Another recent change resulting from declining enrollment is that higher ed institutions are shifting priorities away from the value of a liberal arts education and focusing on degrees that pay.  As a result, we are starting to see a shift toward academic programs that have a direct return on investment — that will prepare that student for a job.  Remote learning is here to stay, as well as a shift to online degrees and more affordable online transferable course options like EdX that don’t lock you into a specific university but allow you to sample courses before committing to a major.  With online and hybrid courses unfolding to become the new norm in higher education, where you attend becomes less important compared to the course of study and actions you take while studying to develop yourself personally and professionally.  This places the emphasis more on choosing a specific major and career and prioritizing the monetary value of your education over fidelity to a particular university.

Although it’s a challenging time, consider yourself at an advantage during this crisis: not only do you have greater leverage of college choice because of declining enrollment from diminishing applications and crisis-based fears, but due to the state of the economy and shift to online jobs, you will need to find a way to distinguish yourself in this new career frontier more than ever.  

Here are some other shifts in recent decades:

  • We have shifted to a knowledge economy from the manufacturing economy of the past.  This means that instead of a machine building a product, an employee’s mind contributes significantly to the end product.  Therefore, higher education is more important than ever.
  • The annual costs of 4-year colleges have risen 3 times faster than the rate of inflation.
  • More and more jobs require training beyond high school. As of 2020, 2 out of 3 jobs require higher education.  Also, the number of people with a master’s degree is now about equal to those with at least a bachelor’s degree in 1960.  Just as the bachelor’s degree has become the new high-school diploma, the master’s degree in turning into the new bachelor’s degree.  This is called “credential creep.”  On a similar note, in 1970, 7 in every 10 workers with a high school diploma were in the middle class.  Today, fewer than 4 in 10 have stayed there.
  • In line with income inequality growing between the rich and poor, societal shifts are causing a growing divide between the have and have-nots in higher education.  Even as more of our citizens need an education past high school, elite colleges in particular are making themselves even more exclusive (or were, before the Covid Pandemic). In the last decade, the percentage of students from families at the highest income levels who got a bachelor’s degree has grown to 82 percent, while for those at the bottom it has fallen to just 8 percent.
  • Compared to the past, people now choose an occupation and move through different industries within that “occupation silo.”  Earlier generations used to be able to move across diverse occupations within the same industry.  This makes it much harder to change careers down the line than for earlier generations, and especially hard for students with diverse interests, skills, and general lack of direction.
  • Due to a baby boom creating the well-known Millennial Generation, the last decade saw a surge in the number of students enrolled at every level of higher education.  That number has been recently shrinking again so colleges must seek other sources of funding as their tuition base declines.  This includes increasing emphasis on recruiting international students.
  • Now, there is less need-based aid for funding college because the more mediocre colleges, in attempt to compete with higher status schools, offer more and more merit-based scholarships to lure top students away from these schools.  This takes away need-based money from the less exceptional students (e.g. B and C students).  Today, more and more aid is merit and not need-based, which excludes students who are NOT at the very top of their class as well as those who are not in the upper socioeconomic echelon.  In other words, “decent” or mediocre students and the middle class ones don’t get a break.
  • More than ever, many colleges are becoming campuses where the students are customers first.  At the same time, classrooms are filled with disengaged and unavailable adjunct professors who are typically not skilled teachers, and students are equally not engaged, spending less and less time engaged in studying, learning, and on other activities that would enhance their professional and personal skills.
  • College is often failing to prepare students for the “real world.”   An example is that in the 2011 book “Academically Adrift,” it claims 45 percent of students in the study made no gains in their writing, complex reasoning, or critical-thinking skills during their first two years of college.
  • Companies now expect recent graduates to have the skills and knowledge for the job immediately, instead of offering paid on-the-job training and apprenticeships as in the past.  They increasingly support the “depth and breadth” model: employers increasingly want college graduates to have a “deep” skill in one academic subject, while also being well-rounded and balanced with other knowledge.  At the same time, graduates are less and less prepared for careers.
  • Soft skills– including communication, organization, teamwork, critical thinking, social skills, creativity, interpersonal communication, adaptability, conflict resolution, presentational skills, problem-solving, teamwork, and emotional intelligence– are increasingly in-demand in today’s workplace, mainly because computers are automating what humans used to require “hard skills” to perform alone.  This article is a great example: The Importance of Soft Skills
  • More “brutal facts about college success today,” according to Dr. Steven Harvey.

At Head & Heart International, we listen, analyze, and help you target what you really love that is going to WORK in today’s competitive workforce.  We help you pursue an academic career according to your unique needs and personality in order to thrive, not just survive.  Whether English is not your native language or not, we help you refine your language and interviewing skills to improve your TOEFL and IELTS scores, entrance essays, and personal interviews.  We help take away the stress, organize the chaos, and make it more manageable.  We save you time and money-  eradicating years of changing majors, frustration, being directionless, finding yourself, and spending extra years in college and going into extra debt. 

Amy Quinde is the owner and founder of Head & Heart International, a unique educational consulting & curriculum company with an overarching goal of preparing students successfully and authentically for their future.  They aim to enhance students’ social-emotional, life, & language skills through creative and purpose development endeavors with a cross-cultural emphasis.  In doing so, they strive to fill the many gaps left by our traditional education system.  Head & Heart International currently offers enrichment curriculum programming for K-12 schools as well as consulting services focused on career and college readiness for high school students and their families.