Preparing College Students for an Uncertain Economy

Student success is part of our mission, and seeing students do well in college is gratifying. But what about success after college, in the “real” world? The world is uncertain now, with rapid shifts in employment, housing, transportation—every facet of life. Indeed, as a higher education professional, you can relate to the fear of uncertainty as we face the coming enrollment precipice. Colleges, just like students, are looking at surviving economically in a certain that seems to be changing rapidly. And just like students, colleges need to adjust to succeed under challenging circumstances, mitigating drops in the number of traditional “college-aged” students with better-focused enrollment efforts.

But indeed, the future has always been unpredictable, and we have always prepared students for the unknown. Now, it is time to up our game to frame the college experience in ways that will decrease fear and increase confidence in our graduates.


Shifting The Frame of Reference

Colleges are no longer just training people for a single career path but are preparing them with the foundational skills that will allow them to thrive in different careers during their lifetimes. Job titles and lines of work are constantly shifting in the current economy. According to a longitudinal study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers born in the 1980s changed jobs an average of 8.6 times between the ages of 18 and 34. In 2021, 53% of people who quit their job changed their occupations or field of employment. As a result, not only will tomorrow’s graduates work for many different employers, but many may switch careers entirely one or more times during their work life.

While college programs can prepare students for a particular career or field, emphasizing the skills you teach, such as creative thinking or coding, that apply in many industries and job types is crucial. For instance, while many theater graduates go on to work in theater, many others will use the organizational, creative, collaborative, and other skills they gained in theater in other professions. All college programs teach valuable career skills broadly applicable to the various jobs that any graduate may pursue at different times in their lives.


What Colleges Can Do

Universities, colleges, and vocational schools teach valuable skills for a changing work landscape. Doubling down on the most practical and indispensable competencies can help students feel more prepared for anything the work world can throw their way. Here are some areas to highlight in your marketing, put extra resources into, and emphasize in your curricula:

  1. Learning to Learn

Helping students learn how to learn new things effectively will set them up for a world where every worker will have to upgrade, update, or expand their skill sets many times. It used to be just professions like medicine and law that required continuing education, yet now all jobs require lifelong learning to stay current. Being ready, able, and willing to learn new skills is attractive to employers, as it shows flexibility and open-mindedness to shift as the company needs to change with the times.

  1. Foundational Competencies and Soft Skills

Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Plus, communication, collaboration, teamwork, and other soft skills. Make sure you are covering the basics well and have remedial/extra help for those who may have missed some of these basics during pandemic remote learning.

  1. Technology and Coding

Count coding as one more foundational skill that every student should have exposure to. Even those going into less technical careers need to understand the basics. Plus, all students need to learn how to leverage technology to solve business problems, health care, social services, and governance problems. All programs need to keep up the push to modernize course requirements to include more technological competencies.

  1. Foster Student Agency

Allowing students to have more say in their learning trains them to actively use their voices to make appropriate choices throughout their lives and careers. Use scaffolding to support students with weaker decision-making skills and value students’ voices throughout their educational experience.

  1. The Big Picture and the Details

Ensure that your programs address the conceptual framework for each subject area and the field’s particular knowledge. Understanding how to take a broader perspective and zoom in on the specifics exercises students’ capabilities to view themselves and the world with sophisticated analysis and a sense of proportion. Critical thinking is crucial to navigating uncertainty.

  1. Work Experiences

Programs can encourage or require participation in internships, work experiences, or job site observation to help students prepare for their lives after school. Getting real-world experience while studying allows students to continue their learning with the real world in mind, prioritizing skills they know they will need on the job.


There Will Be Jobs

As worrying as economic uncertainty can be, there will always be jobs out there. They may look different from what they are today, but there will be opportunities. And nothing prepares people better for success in their careers than a college education. So the message for marketing is that education is the ticket to navigating the seas of change in the workplace.


If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you adapt to the evolving education marketing landscape and ramp up your efforts, please contact us today.

Parent & Student Survey Whitepaper


The Annual PARENT & Student Survey

Advance Education conducted a nationwide survey to learn what students and their parents are looking for from institutions – and the right marketing channels to reach them.

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