A white paper by researchers at Harvard University suggests that the programs colleges use to put students on paths to well-paying jobs—such as job shadowing or career mentorship programs—remain scattered, underinvested in and underresearched. The paper identifies 13 methods colleges and universities use to prepare students for careers and assesses how prevalent, well researched and easy to carry out each of them are.
The paper was released last week by the Project on Workforce, a research effort at Harvard focused on helping higher ed systems create smoother transitions from college to careers and produce better economic outcomes for students, as a part of the project’s College-to-Jobs Initiative . Alongside the white paper, the team of researchers also put out a new interactive map that shows workforce and college graduation trends by region to help higher-educated leaders, policy makers and employers identify and bridge disconnects between the training colleges that are providing and their local workforce. The map draws on seven public data sets and job posting data from Lightcast, a labor market analytics firm.
The paper argues that colleges aren’t offering the economic returns hoped for by students and families, contributing to a growing distrust in the value of a degree. It notes that in 2021, 40 percent of students who recently completed a bachelor’s degree found themselves in jobs that didn’t require one. Meanwhile, higher education and workforce data are generally “siloed,” with scant research that connects the two.
Kerry McKittrick, associate director at the Project on Workforce, said, for a long time, “rightfully and well-meaningly,” college leaders and policy makers were focused on college access. But now, amid rising student loan debt levels, “we’re seeing this kind of change in focus on the role that colleges are playing in economic mobility. But there’s really not a huge evidence base around what works as far as connecting students to good jobs.”
“We hope to kind of create this almost menu of options and provide a grounding for the field across stakeholders, whether it’s colleges, employers or policy makers, around the options that they have as they try to pull together to build a stronger college-to -workforce ecosystem,” she added.
Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, also sees the research as part of a broader national “movement” to “better utilize labor market information as part of the enrollment decision-making and graduate decision-making process .”
“When it comes to system alignment between educational production and labor market demands, the systems have fallen woefully short,” he said. “Some of that is a longtime bias among higher education that we don’t do training, we prepare people to become better citizens … when 90 percent of students want to get a job. They have not been as conscious as they could be, and frankly they haven’t had the good tools.”
Career preparation methods evaluated by the paper include internships, job shadowing, career mentorship programs, industry-recognized credential programs, experiential learning coursework, apprenticeships