The need for education and training beyond high school has been growing for several decades. The demand for factory labor began to decline more than 30 years ago, replaced by an increasing number of jobs that require at least some advanced education or training. At the same time, the United States has slipped behind other developed countries in postsecondary degree attainment.
This new labor market is especially challenging for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and for adults without postsecondary education. Unemployment rates for the 15 percent of adults who lack a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) credential are nearly 50 percent higher than for adults with at least a high school credential, who still face a harder time finding work than those with a four-year college degree.
As employers’ demands have evolved, college and other job training opportunities have become more accessible, with more open-access programs, increased federal student aid, and growth in online learning. But the increasingly diverse postsecondary student body demands greater academic and social support. More than half of all undergraduates receiving federal Pell grants—federal funding for low-income students—are independent students, which means they are age 24 or older or have other circumstances that make them financially independent. And many low-skilled adults are parents who must juggle work and family responsibilities, making it more difficult to pursue education and training needed to obtain higher-skill, higher-wage jobs. Postsecondary education and training is no longer just about college for 18-year-old high school graduates.
Americans young and old need to have the skills to survive and thrive in an increasingly global economy. In addition to academic and technical skills, workers need strong “soft skills,” such as interpersonal, technology, time management, and language skills, to gain employment and advance along a career ladder. Workers largely acquire these skills through education and training in postsecondary programs at community and technical colleges, workforce development agencies, or community-based organizations.
We examine ways for individuals—especially low-income, at-risk, or nontraditional populations—to get the skills they need to survive and thrive. We study community college innovations, apprenticeship and other workforce development approaches, supports for parents who pursue postsecondary education and training, and higher education access, affordability, and success. We contribute to today’s policy discussions and inform implementation of postsecondary approaches through rigorous research on education and training issues and evaluation of postsecondary strategies. We also help translate the evidence for multiple audiences through briefs, blog posts, websites, and briefings.
Providing information on traditional college pathways and other postsecondary options, including midcareer training and apprenticeships, our research and analysis will help policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels make better decisions. Our work will also help individuals make informed choices about how to gain necessary skills and help program administrators develop effective programs.