Rethinking higher education: Embracing practical learning for future success.

By fostering collaboration between educators, employers, and policymakers, we can create a more inclusive educational ecosystem that prepares graduates for the evolving job market and breaks the cycle of underemployment.
March 13, 2024
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As the CEO and Co-Founder of Riipen, an organization dedicated to bridging the gap between education and industry, I am deeply invested in the future of our workforce and the evolving landscape of higher education. Recently, an article published by Inside Higher Ed shed light on a concerning trend: more than half of recent four-year college graduates are underemployed. Even more alarming is the fact that almost three-quarters of these individuals remain underemployed ten years later. Such circumstances are particularly exacerbated for people from marginalized communities.

These statistics, stemming from the latest report by Strada Education and Burning Glass, underscore the urgent need for a paradigm shift in higher education. They reveal the persistent challenge of underemployment, emphasizing the critical importance of the first job after graduation. No longer can we rely on a graduate's first employment opportunity as the sole avenue for gaining the requisite experience to propel their career forward. Unfortunately, breaking this cycle remains a daunting task for one out of every two graduates.

As Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Strada Education Foundation, stated, “Colleges and universities, states, and our country can do more and should do more to help students prepare for the critical transition from college to the labor market.” This sentiment resonates deeply with our mission at Riipen.

At Riipen, we recognize that traditional approaches to education must evolve to meet the demands of today's rapidly changing economy. We believe that education should not only prepare individuals for their chosen fields but also equip them with the skills and confidence to thrive in a rapidly evolving workforce. By acknowledging the mismatch between traditional academic pathways and the demands of today's job market, we can begin to implement meaningful reforms. 

While the challenges highlighted in the Strada report are significant, I remain optimistic about the future of higher education. The growing recognition of the importance of practical learning presents an opportunity for meaningful change. By embracing innovative approaches that prioritize hands-on experience in an accessible and equitable way, we can empower every student to succeed in the workforce and contribute meaningfully to society.

We must prioritize experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, co-op programs, and employer-led project-based experiences, that provide students with practical skills and insights that cannot be gained solely within the confines of a classroom. By integrating these experiences into the fabric of higher education, we can better prepare graduates for the realities of the job market and reduce the prevalence of underemployment. What’s more, by prioritizing the incorporation of these opportunities directly in the curriculum, we can overcome barriers to access and more equitably deliver these transformational experiences to students who are traditionally underserved.

This transformation cannot happen in isolation. It requires collaboration between educators, employers, policymakers, and organizations like Riipen who are committed to driving change. Together, we can create a more inclusive and dynamic educational ecosystem that prepares students for the challenges and opportunities of the future. As we navigate these complex issues, it's essential to approach them with honesty and respect. We must acknowledge the limitations of traditional educational models while also recognizing their value. By bridging the gap between academia and industry, we can build a brighter future for generations to come.

The findings of the Strada report serve as a call to action for all stakeholders in higher education. It's now clearer than ever that we need to rethink the way we prepare students for working life and offer students meaningful work experience earlier and throughout their education if we are to break this cycle. Through collaboration and innovation, we can create a more equitable and effective educational system that meets the needs of students and employers alike. Let’s work together to build a future where every graduate can find meaningful and fulfilling employment.

To read the full article from Inside Higher Ed and access the report from Strada Education Network, please visit the following links:

Dana Stephenson

CEO & Co-Founder, Riipen

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