Improve Student Employability: The Great Misalignment Report:

Changing Higher Ed podcast 212 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guests Kathryn Campbell and Zack Mabel

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed podcast 212 - Improve Student Employability - Discussing The Great Misalignment: Addressing the Mismatch Between the Supply of Certificates and Associates Degrees and the Future Demand for Workers in the U.S. Labor Markets with Kathryn Campbell and Zack Mabel
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

June 18, 2024 · Episode 212

Improve Student Employability: The Great Misalignment Report

41 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Insights about student employability from The Great Misalignment report; the mismatch between middle-skills credentials and labor market demand.


Only about 50 percent of colleges use labor market data to guide program development or share information with prospective students. This stunning statistic, based on a recent report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), highlights the severe misalignment between the credentials higher education institutions are producing and the skills employers need in the workforce.


In this episode of the Changing Higher Ed podcast, Dr. Drumm McNaughton welcomes back Zack Mabel, Research Professor and Director of Research, and Kathryn Campbell, Associate Director of Editorial Policy and Senior Editor/Writer, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) to discuss their report titled “The Great Misalignment: Addressing the Mismatch Between the Supply of Certificates and Associates Degrees and the Future Demand for Workers in the U.S. Labor Markets.


The report digs into the extent of this misalignment for middle-skills credentials like associate’s degrees and certificates. It finds that in half of the local labor markets nationwide, at least 50 percent of all middle-skills credentials would need to be granted in different fields of study than they currently are in order to align perfectly with projected labor market demand through 2031.


Importance of Labor Market Alignment for Middle Skills Providers


Community colleges and other middle-skills providers aim to prepare students for work in their local labor markets. However, the CEW report reveals that the extent of misalignment between the credentials these institutions produce and what employers will need varies substantially across regions.


For example, credentials-to-jobs misalignment is over 70 percent higher in Los Angeles compared to Atlanta. Urban labor markets tend to have stronger alignment overall than rural areas, but even among urban and rural markets, the variation is significant.


Perfect alignment may not be a realistic goal, as students choose programs based on their interests and goals, not just labor market demand. Institutions also aim to prepare students to transfer to 4-year programs. Still, the magnitude of the mismatch in many areas shows considerable room for improvement.


Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Access to Aligned Programs


The CEW analysis also examined racial and ethnic disparities in access to institutions and programs that are well-aligned with workforce needs. It found glaring gaps, only some of which are explained by geographic factors.


American Indian and Alaska Native adults are 3 to 18 times more likely than any other racial/ethnic group to live in a community with no local middle-skill provider at all. While this is partly due to many Native Americans living on tribal lands, the disparity persists even when comparing similarly rural areas.


Among working adults who do live near middle-skill institutions, Hispanics are the least likely to reside in communities with a particularly strong alignment between credential production and workforce demand. The factors driving these differences are not fully clear from the available data but likely involve issues like investment in labor market information systems, development of career pathways, work-based learning opportunities, and local political dynamics.


Strengthening Career Counseling and Transfer Pathways


Choosing a program of study has become extremely complex for students today. There are three times as many occupations and five times as many postsecondary programs as there were just a few decades ago. Navigating these options is a daunting task.


Yet the current counseling system in American high schools is understaffed and under-resourced to provide sufficient guidance. Counselors often lack access to detailed labor market data to help students make informed decisions.


Once enrolled, over a quarter of middle-skill students are in liberal arts and sciences programs oriented toward transfer to a 4-year institution. Fewer than half successfully make that transition within six years. For the majority, their credential may not provide clear pathways to quality employment without additional effort to translate their education into relevant skills.


Institutions need to strengthen career navigation services while also improving transfer outcomes. Students should have a clear line of sight to both further education and workforce opportunities throughout their experience at a middle-skills provider.


Colleges should invest in the interpersonal connections that help students develop their career pathways. This includes robust counseling services, engaged faculty, and opportunities for work-based learning experiences. Students need to feel a sense of belonging in their postsecondary community and gain exposure to careers that align with their interests. Building connections between the institution, the labor market, and potential employers is key to making this work in the student’s favor.


Using Labor Market Data for Program Improvement


To drive better alignment between credentials and workforce demand, institutions need to utilize labor market data more strategically and systematically. This includes both long-term occupational projections and real-time information on job postings and in-demand skills.


Currently, the usage of labor market data to guide program decisions is far too limited. Colleges need sufficient resources and staff expertise to collect, analyze, and translate this information into action. States can help by providing high-quality, localized projections and analytical tools. Institutions should also engage employers and industry associations to understand changing skill needs.


Data alone is not enough. Colleges need to combine labor market information with a collaborative regional approach to program development:


  • Establish a coordinating body to evaluate the need for new programs and changes to existing offerings across all providers in the area.

  • Engage faculty in aligning curricula with workforce competencies.

  • Develop balanced portfolios of liberal arts and career-technical programs that provide both strong employment outcomes and transfer opportunities.

  • Build bridges between non-credit workforce training and credit-bearing programs to create more seamless pathways.

  • Integrate work-based learning widely to improve graduates’ job readiness.


Middle-skill providers that struggle to utilize labor market data, either due to resource constraints in purchasing the data or limited staff capacity to analyze it fully, need to be vocal about these challenges. They should engage their local economic development organizations and state agencies to advocate for more support in leveraging this data to drive alignment. Additional investments are clearly needed to help institutions fulfill the potential of labor market information to improve student outcomes.


Improving Student Employability is an Urgent Priority


The stakes are high for students to reap a positive return on their higher education investments. With rising costs, if individuals complete a credential that is not in demand or only qualifies them for low-paying jobs, the value proposition of college is seriously diminished.


Institutions and policymakers must make concerted efforts to improve student employability a top priority. This requires rethinking old models and forging much deeper partnerships between educators and employers. The future of the middle-skill workforce depends on it.


Three Key Takeaways for University, College, and Community College Presidents and Boards


  1. Explore ways to collaborate with other local education and training providers in your area. Coordinating program offerings and investments can help optimize the alignment of credentials with labor market demand across the region. Institutions should complement rather than unnecessarily duplicate each other’s efforts.


  1. Invest heavily in the interpersonal connections and support services that help students choose and complete programs leading to high-demand careers. This includes strong counseling, engaged faculty, work-based learning integrated into programs, and a robust career services function. Deep engagement with local employers is essential for aligning curricula, providing experiential learning, and facilitating job placement.


  1. Be vocal about the need for resources and support to effectively utilize labor market data for program improvement. Advocate to local economic development organizations, workforce boards, and state agencies for assistance in accessing and leveraging high-quality data. Articulate the specific investments needed for your institution to deliver credentials that meet workforce needs. Making the most of labor market information is challenging but essential for improving student employability at scale.



Wrapping Up The Great Misalignment Report


The “Great Misalignment” between the middle-skills credentials higher education institutions produce, and the jobs available in the labor market is a complex and urgent challenge. The CEW report reveals the extent of this misalignment varies considerably across regions and has troubling racial and ethnic equity gaps.


To improve student employability, institutions need to utilize labor market data much more strategically, overhaul career counseling and support services, and strengthen transfer pathways. A collaborative, regional approach to program alignment coupled with deep employer partnerships is essential.


The current lack of alignment is not serving students well. Too many are investing time and money into programs that do not lead to in-demand, family-supporting careers. Higher education leaders must prioritize the changes needed to ensure that every credential they offer provides a reliable return on investment in the workforce. Closing the misalignment between credentials and jobs is critical for delivering on the promise of economic mobility and ensuring a thriving middle-skills workforce.


About Our Podcast Guests

Kathryn Peltier Campbell is Associate Director of Editorial Policy and Senior Editor/Writer at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. In her role, she directs content development for CEW’s reports and collaborates on editorial strategy. She has extensive experience editing and writing publications focused on topics such as diversity and equity in postsecondary education, higher education’s civic mission, and the value of liberal education in contemporary contexts. She has a deep interest in ensuring that every individual has the opportunity and means to contribute to—and thrive in—the workforce, civil society, and life. Kathryn has an MA in English from the University of Virginia, where she additionally earned a BA with a double major in English and physics.


Zack Mabel is a research professor of education and economics at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, where he leads research projects that leverage insights from labor and behavioral economics to promote educational opportunity, equity, and economic mobility. His work is motivated by the goal of improving college and later life outcomes for members of historically marginalized groups to achieve a shared vision of economic prosperity in the United States. Prior to joining CEW, he worked most recently as a policy research scientist at the College Board. Zack earned his BA from Brandeis University, MPP from the University of Michigan, and EdD in Quantitative Policy Analysis of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


You may be interested in a previous podcast with Campbell and Mabel, in which we discussed their report, What Works: 10 Education, Training, and Work-Based Pathway Changes that Lead to Good Jobs.



About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton consults with higher education institutions on governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.




Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 212 – with Kathryn Campbell & Zack Mabel

Introduction and Guest Introduction

Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Our guests today are Dr. Zack Mabel and Kathryn Campbell from the Georgetown University Center on Education in the Workforce. Zack is a research professor of education and economics and leads research projects that leverage insight from labor and behavioral economics to promote educational opportunity, equity, and economic mobility. His work is motivated by the goal of improving college and later life outcomes for members of historically marginalized groups to achieve a shared vision of economic prosperity in the United States.

Kathryn is Associate Director of Editorial Policy and Senior Editor and Writer and co- authors many CEW publications. Her primary focus is publications focused on topics such as diversity and equity in post secondary education in the workforce, higher education’s civic mission, and the value of education in contemporary contexts.


Background of Georgetown CEW

Drumm McNaughton: Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce’s research focuses on three core areas; jobs, skills, and equity, with the goal of better aligning education and training in the workforce and labor market demand.

And Zack and Kathryn join me today to discuss their most recent study, The Great Misalignment: Addressing the Mismatch Between the Supply of Certificates and Associates Degrees and the Future Demand for Workers in the U. S. Labor Markets.

Zack, Kathryn, welcome to the show.

Kathryn Campbell: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Zack Mabel: Yeah, thanks so much.

Drumm McNaughton: Oh, my pleasure. It’s great to have you back. I remember our last conversation and how fun it was for me to learn about some of the things that you’re doing at CEW.

Zack Mabel: Yeah, we’ve been, hard at work since then and excited to be back with you and to share some of our latest research on a separate but related topic.

Drumm McNaughton: It is, and I’m excited to hear about it.


Discussion on The Great Misalignment Report

Drumm McNaughton: Before we jump in, if y’all wouldn’t mind just giving the listeners a little background on who you are and what you do, that would be great.

Kathryn Campbell: I am Kathryn Campbell, and I am the Associate Director of Editorial Policy here at the Center on Education in the Workforce. In that role, part of what I do is work with our report teams to produce reports like this one, The Great Misalignment, which we’re really excited to be here to talk with you about today, Drumm.

Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, Zack.

Zack Mabel: Yeah, I’m Zack Mabel. I’m director of research at the center. I spent about two decades, working on research and evidence based, advocacy for policies and interventions that can promote educational and economic opportunity in our country.

Drumm McNaughton: Now, thank you. And a little bit, because most folks don’t know what CEW does, would one of you mind giving a little bit of background? The research that y’all are doing is really, really important. So, if you wouldn’t mind.

Kathryn Campbell: Sure. Tony Carnevale founded the Center around 2008 to really dig into this connection between education and the labor market. And at the time we felt there was really a void in really direct discussion about how what you study in high school and in college leads into what you do for the rest of your life in your work. And so the center was founded to start digging into that. We have a large focus on equity issues and ensuring that people have equitable access to opportunity across differences like race and ethnicity and gender. And we are continuing that mission with a series of projects today, including this report.

Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. Let’s jump right in if that’s okay with y’all. It’s been about a year since you’ve been on the podcast, and that was about your previous report, “What Works: 10 Education Training and Work Based Pathway Changes That Lead to Good Jobs”. This report is similar in purpose, but it’s digging into the topic a bit differently than previous reports.

Why this? Why now?

Kathryn Campbell: That’s right.


Understanding Middle Skills and Labor Market Alignment

Kathryn Campbell: So this report is our attempt to look closely at whether community colleges and other middle-skills providers are preparing students for work in their local labor markets because that is one piece of their mission as providers in those markets. So, we’re highlighting in this report the extent of the misalignment between the current supply of middle-skills credentials and the projected demand for those credentials. And we’re speaking specifically about associate degrees and sub-baccalaureate certificates.

So, keeping in mind that preparing students for their local labor markets is one piece of the multiple missions of middle-skills providers, we realize that perfect alignment isn’t a realistic goal for a number of reasons. One is that students, not colleges, are really choosing their programs of study, and they take into account the potential economic outcomes, but also, their personal interests, their personal goals in life. They don’t always have perfect labor market information to inform those decisions, so that aspect is somewhat outside of college’s control and should be.

And another piece that we would mention is that, among the multiple admissions are preparing 4-year institutions and that is also something that these providers should be focused on doing, that being said, when we looked at the alignment in this report between the labor markets projected needs through 2031 and what the colleges are providing and what program areas, we found that the extent to which misalignment, occurs is pretty substantial, and it varies quite a bit across local labor markets.

So, our takeaway is that there’s considerable room for improvement. In half of the local labor markets nationwide, at least 50 percent of all middle-skills credentials would need to be granted in different fields of study than they are currently in order for middle-skill credential production and projected labor market demand to align perfectly through 2031.

Drumm McNaughton: Let me interrupt real quick, if I may. Help me understand what you mean by “middle-skills.”

Kathryn Campbell: Sure, “middle-skills” is terminology that we use to describe sub-baccalaureate credentials, like associate’s degrees and certificates that are granted in institutions like community colleges, other for profit and nonprofit providers.

Drumm McNaughton: So, with those middle-skills, that also is the bridge to baccalaureate degree completion. Am I right?

Kathryn Campbell: It absolutely can be, yes, for some students it is. That being said, I think the transfer rates are much lower than the share of students who plan to transfer, so that is an area of potential improvement that we also discussed in the report.

One thing we would say about that is that whether or not a student ultimately transfers to a four-year institution, it would be to their benefit to have skill sets that are aligned with the local labor market to help smooth their pathway to the four-year institution and through the workforce as they get there. We know many students work while they’re earning their four-year degrees.

Many may stop out, re-enter the education pathway at different times, and so what we’re looking for is ways for providers to better align both the potential in the workforce that students will develop through their educations and their potential to pursue further education to meet their goals, whatever their personal goals may be.

Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. That’s helpful for me to understand that because this is a new area for me, and I think for a lot of the listeners as well. Most of our listeners are really focused on undergrad and graduate degrees. Colleges, universities) versus the AA degrees and the certificates, but many higher ed institutions are getting into the certificate model right now. So please continue.

Kathryn Campbell: That’s right, and some of the institutions that we discuss in this work are four-year providers that provide these credentials. We found that on average, urban labor markets tend to have stronger alignment than rural labor markets. But even among urban and rural labor markets, we see there’s quite a bit of variation in alignment. For example, credentials to jobs misalignment is more than 70 percent higher in Los Angeles than it is in Atlanta.

And there are a lot of different contributors to that kind of difference, and in this report, we don’t dig in on every labor market to identifying what those are in that specific labor market, but we do have a tool on our website that will allow people to look at misalignment and the level of misalignment within their own community and their own commuting zone.

So, on that website is So that is a good place to look.

Drumm McNaughton: Zack. You were the PI for this.

Zack Mabel: Yes.

Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, I, I don’t know whether the way you say that’s a good thing or not a good thing. I’m not sure.

Zack Mabel: Oh, I’m happy to, I’m happy to own it. I’ll take it.

Drumm McNaughton: I’m just kidding with you. So, there were a lot of other things in here that misalignment is fascinating to me, but also given, The state of higher ed, red versus blue, et cetera.


Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Labor Market Access

Drumm McNaughton: You also come up and you discuss racial and ethnic disparities. Can you talk to that to some degree?

Zack Mabel: Absolutely. We know that opportunity is oftentimes dependent on where you live, and, where you learn. And we know that there’s a lot of segregation in our country, by race and ethnicity, across communities.

We wanted to understand whether that plays out by leading to disparities in access to labor markets, local labor markets, for different groups of working adults, in terms of how well aligned those local economies are with respect to their local education providers and the projected, jobs of tomorrow in those places. We went in certainly with the hypothesis that we would observe some of these disparities, and that is, in fact, absolutely the case.

So, one of the first results that really popped out for us was that American Indian and Alaskan Native adults are much more likely, 3 to 18 times more likely, than any other racial or ethnic group in the country, to live in a community where there isn’t any local middle skills provider operating.

And only some of that is actually explained by native, individuals living on tribal lands, for example. However, it is actually the case that, when we account for just how, urban or rural the places are where people of different races and ethnicities live, that actually fully accounts for the disparity in access to local middle skills providers across race and ethnicity.

So, essentially, if you were comparing groups of individuals that live in similarly urban or similarly rural areas, then access to middle skills providers is equalized across racial and ethnic groups. But among working adults who do live in local labor markets that are served by middle skills providers, we also see differences in levels of labor market alignment.

And in particular, we find that Hispanic and Latino adults are the least likely to live in communities that have particularly strong alignment across the country.

One of the, I would say, challenging, and limiting aspects of our work is that, while we actually are able to understand some of the factors that contribute to differences in the levels of alignment across labor markets, and we can talk more about what some of those factors are, they don’t unfortunately explain many of the differences by race and ethnicity that we observe.

And so, there’s a bunch of other factors that we know from other research likely contribute to stronger credentials to jobs alignment and local economies. Those are factors like how much local areas are investing in labor market information tools. How much effort they’ve put into developing career pathways programs. How much they’ve invested in work-based learning opportunities. Even political dynamics, local political dynamics, like the amount of trust and collaboration among various stakeholders. We know that. All of those are important factors to driving alignment.

They’re not things that we actually observe in our data and can quantify, but we suspect because of how frequently those factors have been surfaced in other work on this topic, our hypothesis is that those are important factors that might very well explain some of these differences that we observe across, different racial and ethnic populations when it comes to levels of local labor market alignment.

Drumm McNaughton: This makes so much sense. Both from a data perspective and just an intuitive. Does this work? Does this not work?


Strategies for Better Alignment and Coordination

Drumm McNaughton: One of the things that I talk to my clients about is when you’re building programs, when you’re building certificates, things along these lines, you’ve got to take a look at what are the forecast jobs necessary in the labor markets going forward?

So that requires a BLS statistics and projections for that. But also too, you need to be talking with the local labor leaders to make sure that your degree programs, your certificates, are relevant to them, not only now, but built into the future. Can you both talk to this a little bit, please?

Zack Mabel: Yeah, so I’ll start and then, Kathryn can jump in, where I’ve missed things, but I think that’s absolutely the case. We need a lot more collaboration between educational providers and employers. And oftentimes, now, those collaborations that we see tend to be one off, right?

So, a single institution has created a program in partnership with a single employer and we really need to move beyond that and to think about how to scale those types of partnerships so that they’re sector wide. So how do we get collaborations between multiple providers and multiple employers? And I think that’s the direction that we really need to be moving towards in terms of brokering those types of relationships.

I think another important point that you touched upon, though, is that when it comes to alignment, it’s important to think of that as a system-level metric and a system-level concept. Right? So, in our work, when we’re looking at alignment, we’re not actually measuring or evaluating whether each individual institution is well aligned to the needs of the local economy. There are many, many reasons why we don’t expect, nor should we necessarily want, an individual institution to be well aligned to the needs of the labor market.

It might be an institution that is specializing in a particular set of programs like health care programs that if you’re evaluating them on whether they’re meeting all of the needs of the local economy. Of course, they’re not going to be doing that, but they’re providing a very important contribution to the collective needs of the economy. And so when it comes to thinking about coordination, we also need to be thinking about how do we get local providers to be coordinating with each other.

So it’s not just about an institution understanding what the forecasted job demand is going to be in the economy, but understanding what is the forecasted job demand in the economy, and what is our contribution to addressing that demand in relation to all of the other providers that are servicing our area and ensuring that collectively we’re doing the best job that we can to meet the needs of the economy. Which in some cases means specialization. In other cases, it might actually mean overlapping in terms of program delivery and credential production, but knowing what the appropriate emphasis, should be for your program.

Knowing that it exists alongside one or maybe several other institutions that are offering the same type of credentials, and that will be producing workers to meet the needs of the local economy as a result.

Drumm McNaughton: That makes perfect sense. Kathryn, more to add?

Kathryn Campbell: Well, I’m just building on that and previewing some of the strategies that we discuss on that point. As Zack pointed out, you really do need coordination across various providers and across the providers and the employers in the labor market in order to ensure that you’re getting that strong alignment.

And that requires both the kind of data that you had referred to earlier, Drumm, the BLS data about projected job openings. It also means you have to be really thoughtful and direct about getting information from other providers too. So it’s a lot of coordination across what sometimes are viewed as competing entities.

And one thing that we recommend is that there should be a coordinating body that really helps evaluate the impact of alignment. From adding new programs, determining existing ones, that convenes local providers and employers and workforce development boards and economic development agencies in order to discuss all of those elements across and really thoughtfully determine what to be providing and which provider should be doing what within their local context.

Drumm McNaughton: You also make a comment in the report about improving state data practices. And I work in this area in looking at efficiencies and which programs need to be started up, which need to be expanded, which need to be closed down, which is not the easy conversation to have.

And the one thing we run across is it depends, obviously depending on the state, but many state agencies really don’t have the necessary data that allow colleges and universities to make these hard decisions. It’s almost you wet your finger, stick it up in the air and see which way the wind is blowing and that’s a heck of a way to run a railroad.

Zack Mabel: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. In our work in this report, one of the things we learned was just how much states are doing things differently, right? And so there are some leading states in this space that provide a regional, labor market projection estimates that really can service the needs that you’re talking about for local institutional providers.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s lots of states that provide state level projections. States, in fact, are required by federal law to provide projections at the state level, but they’re not required to provide regional or local labor market projections, and there are some states that don’t do so as a result.

And we think it’s imperative in order to drive stronger alignment between our education and local workforce systems to bring data to bear on addressing the challenge. And that means we need to have some more consistency than we do right now in terms of generating these types of local job projection estimates. So that the information is available for local stakeholders to make program decisions and to help guide students with the use of data, because otherwise you’re operating in a vacuum without much insight.

It’s not surprising, under those conditions that you’re going to see a lot of disconnect between the types of investments that providers are making and the needs that employers claim that they have.

Drumm McNaughton: I couldn’t agree with you more in that. Especially now, whether it be on the ground or online or hybrid, students generally are going to a college or a university within 60 miles of where they live. Aside from your Harvard’s and your MIT’s where, they’re attracting students from all over the country, internationally, your main colleges and universities enrollment is within 50, 60 miles of where the institution is located.

And that doesn’t matter whether you’re face to face or online. So having this data is critical for enrollment pipelines and, more importantly, making sure that graduates are job ready and have the resources they need to be able to grow throughout their careers.

Zack Mabel: Yeah, absolutely. And on the topic of better data and what would be helpful, one of the places where we don’t have great information right now is around the mobility patterns of individuals after they complete their post-secondary education and training.

We have a little bit of information from the census, post-secondary, employment, and outcomes database, but it’s at a very aggregate level, like what proportion of graduates are still working in-state or are working within the same region of the country as where they attended.

It would behoove us, as a field, to have a much stronger understanding of, within a state for example, are bachelor’s degree workers actually working in local economies close to the institution that they attended, or do they gravitate towards the major metro areas within their state or to major metro areas along the coasts of the country.

These are big questions that would really help us to be able to measure alignment much more comprehensively than we’ve been able to do, and in fact, the lack of that data is the very reason why, in this report, we actually chose to look exclusively at alignment with respect to middle skills credentials.

Because without having that granular insight into where people are moving to work after graduating, we rest on the assumption that graduates are, in fact, remaining, or at least intend to remain, working in their local economy, and that assumption, while very strong, is more reasonable when comes to evaluating alignment amongst middle skills providers and middle skills workers, than it is to look at bachelor’s degree workers in the four year institutions that are producing those credentials.

So, with better data one of the directions that we hope to push this work further is to also incorporate bachelor’s degree metrics to evaluate what alignment looks like across different communities.

Drumm McNaughton: That will be very, very interesting to see when it comes out next week, hopefully, no, I’m just

Zack Mabel: Oh, yeah, of course.


Importance of Career Counseling and Data Utilization

Drumm McNaughton: Kathryn, if you wouldn’t mind, talk to the need for counseling and career navigation services, because this is a critical area. It doesn’t matter whether you’re certificate, whether you’re AA, BA. People need a better sense of what this degree can do and how I can use it going forward,

Kathryn Campbell: Right. That’s absolutely right. And career counseling, career navigation is another place where better data, or at least the connection of better data to the students who need it would be really beneficial. So, career navigation has become really complicated in today’s world. The number of occupations has grown three times since 1950.

It’s three times larger than it was in 1950. The number of post-secondary programs is five times larger than it was in 1985. And that just means there are so many options and so many potential pathways that students can take. And often they are trying to navigate those pathways based on, the information that’s in front of them, which may be what their parents did, what their friends’ parents do.

We really need a counseling system that is able to help them navigate this really complex situation. And the counseling system in American high schools, today, is not staffed to the level that it would need to be. I think, honestly, they don’t have the resources they would need to provide this for every student.

Kathryn Campbell: At the same time, only about 50 percent of colleges use labor market data to guide program development or share the information with prospective students. So as long as the counseling system is falling behind where it needs to be, and by no fault of the counselors at all, it’s really a resources issue and a data availability issue, to some degree, the misalignment is going to remain widespread, and students will continue to be making uninformed choices about what to study.

 I think on the student side, what we’re really looking for is less regret about what you studied, and a better sense that what you’re doing in post-secondary education is going to get you where you want to be in the long term.

Drumm McNaughton: Which makes perfect sense because you can’t have students not being informed about what they’re doing, and I suspect this is one of the reasons why the quote “perception of viability of a college education” has dropped significantly because students, prospective students are not getting the information they need to make an informed choice.

Does that make sense?

Zack Mabel: Absolutely. And the price that students pay, in terms of making some of these choices that, if it doesn’t pay off, is a much riskier proposition today than it has been in the past. Both because of the, hollowing out of economic opportunity for many, people without college degrees, and the fact that, there’s a lot more private individual burden to paying your way through college.

And so if you either don’t finish your degree, or if you end up completing a degree, but it’s not aligned to the needs of where you want to work or, even if it is aligned, if it’s, happens to be in an occupation that doesn’t provide you or your family with economic security, that’s a real, not just a perceived drag but actually could play out in terms of not being a positive return on your investment.

So, the stakes are really high, absolutely, which is all the more reason why from a system level and from a policy perspective. We need to be building the infrastructure to provide the supports that people need to make these very, risky, often, often one-time decisions that they don’t have a lot of experience to fall back on to ensure that that they’re going to be making fully informed decisions.

And so the way to properly address that is to pair individuals with personalized support and guidance to help them make those decisions, and a trained professional counselor to help people identify what their educational and career goals are and what options are available to them, in high quality programs to get themselves there. That to us at C.E.W. is the no brainer solution. It comes with a very substantial investment that would be required to make that realized. And that’s where the rubber’s going to hit the road and we need to have the political will and the financial investments to make that happen.

Drumm McNaughton: Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s one other piece with your report that I wanted to get into, and it’s dovetailing into this.


Strengthening Career and Transfer Pathways

Drumm McNaughton: The strengthening the career and transfer pathways. Just going back to your point, Zack. I’m seeing more and more institutions doing bridging weeks, which gets the counselors there, gets the faculty there, get students so that they know they’re ready for colleges, but it also helps point them in the right direction.

So, it gives them the ability to understand what their prospective major, what kind of careers there are, what kind of transfer pathways they might be if they’re going to a two-year institution. Tell us a little bit about what you found and what institutions can do to help this.

Zack Mabel: Yeah. So, I will say, I think those bridge programs are essential. And I think they need to happen even earlier on. I think we need to be getting more into high schools to be providing this information to students.

We probably need to do it over and over again. Right? So, delivering this one time is likely not going to be sufficient, and we need to be making sure that the messaging and the information is being hammered home time and again by multiple individuals so that it resonates and sinks in to young people who, are, drinking from the fire hose when it comes to trying to figure out life ahead of them.

It’s hard to retain all that information repeat, repeat, repeat is, usually a pretty good strategy there. And I think there’s a lot more that needs to happen, and the reason I say that is because one of the big, findings, from our work in this report is that, more than a quarter of all middle skills credentials are being conferred in programs that don’t have a direct occupational match.

Now, most of those, the overwhelming majority of those programs, are in transfer-oriented programs, in liberal arts and sciences, and humanities. Oftentimes those are programs that are designed specifically to facilitate students transferring to four-year degrees, and as Kathryn said, most students who are pursuing credentials in two-year institutions aspire to ultimately complete a bachelor’s degree, which is why you see such a large share of credentials being produced in these programs.

The challenge is that, even though transfer rates among students in those programs is higher than the overall transfer rates that we see from two-year institutions, it is still the case that fewer than half of students who complete programs in these liberal arts and humanities transfer oriented programs, fewer than half of them, in fact, transfer to a bachelor’s degree program within six years of entering a two year institution.

And so the reality is that for most of these students, they are coming out with a credential that does not have a very direct relationship with a job in, the labor market. But that is where they are finding themselves, is with a credential that they are going to need to translate into a job because they aren’t, in fact, transferring.

And so we need to be doing multiple things at the same time. We know that the best opportunity for securing a quality job in our labor market is to have a bachelor’s degree, right? And so, there is real value to improving the transitions from 2 year to 4 year institutions and helping more people earn bachelor’s degrees.

That is going to expand economic opportunity for individuals and at scale in our society. At the same time, while students are struggling to transfer, at the rates that they are currently, we need to be doing more to ensure that when they come out of any program, from a middle skills provider, that there’s a direct relationship, in terms of their skill development that they can translate into securing a quality middle skills job in their local economy.

And so we need to be tying those programs more to, career development while at the same time, breaking down many of the barriers that exist to facilitating successful transfer.

Drumm McNaughton: It sounds like they need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Zack Mabel: Right, which we know is challenging, especially for these institutions that are so resource constrained. And again, this comes back to a question of political will and understanding, in fact, what are the resources that are necessary to equip these institutions to do the job that we’re asking them to do?

And I think there’s no doubt that middle skills institutions, in particular community colleges with multiple missions, probably have the hardest job. They’re being asked to do so much in so many different respects, and oftentimes with populations of students that face many, many challenges.

And if you look at the disparities in funding that those institutions receive relative to four-year institutions, we can’t expect that they can really do much more with what they have, and so we really need to think about giving them more to be able to do more instead of holding them accountable for not doing as much as we think they should be

Drumm McNaughton: Yeah. Thank you.


Three Takeaways for University, College, and Community College Presidents and Boards

Drumm McNaughton: This has been a fascinating conversation for me. The report, again, Is the great misalignment. Give it a read for sure. “The Great Misalignment: Addressing the Mismatch Between the Supply of Certificates and Associate Degrees and the Future Demand for Workers in the U S Labor Market.

Zack, Kathryn, thank you so much for being on the show. As we always do. We wrap up with our two questions, three takeaways for university college and community college presidents and boards.

Zack Mabel: Yeah. The 1st, I would say is, explore ways to collaborate with other local providers in your area. How can you better coordinate and program together to ensure that you’re really complimenting each other’s efforts instead of duplicating your investments unnecessarily?

Drumm McNaughton: Great. Kathryn, you got another one to add?

Kathryn Campbell: I would say really invest in those interpersonal connections that are going to help students develop their pathways. We know that counselors, as we discussed earlier, are a big piece of that. Faculty are a big piece of that.

Making sure that all students really feel like they’re a big Part of their post-secondary community and that they have those opportunities to say, try work based learning experiences, so they can get a sense of what they’d like to be doing with their lives.

And that’s another place where they can build relationships, right, with people in the labor market and with potential employers. Thinking about that aspect of how you conduct outreach with your community and build those connections with the community that your institution is a part of, I think is really crucial to making sure that all of this works in the students favor.

Drumm McNaughton: Those are great takeaways. Anything else to add?

Zack Mabel: I would say if you’re a middle-skills provider and you are struggling to make use of job market data, either because of resource constraints to purchase that data, or staffing constraints to use that data and harness it to the best of your ability, make that known, right?

Go to your local economic development organizations and let them know that you need help. Go to your state and tell them that you need more support to leverage this data in order to improve alignment.

We know that a lot of institutions just don’t have the time and resources to harness this data as much as they possibly can. I think we need to better understand what additional investments are needed in order to reach our potential with utilizing this data, so institutions should really make that clear.

Drumm McNaughton: Great. Thank you so much.


Upcoming Projects and Closing Remarks

Drumm McNaughton: What’s next for you two? What’s next for CEW? And what’s the next report coming out?

Zack Mabel: Kathryn can speak more to exactly what the next report is, but I will say in the alignment space, we have a number of future projects where we’re going to be pushing the frontier on this topic.

One thing that I think is really important to bear in mind is that alignment in and of itself does not necessarily mean that economic opportunity will be expanded, right? In fact, some of the areas that we show to be most aligned, for example, there is much more projected job demand in food and personal services jobs, which tend to be low paying than in middle skills credentials that are being produced that align with those occupations.

So simply expanding credential production in those programs doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to lead to more economic opportunity for workers in those economies. So really what we think the value of alignment offers is providing a lens to understand where is there not enough credential production in areas that really do have the greatest potential for expanding economic opportunity.

And so we have a host of work that we’re going to be launching over the next several months that really look at which areas, which local economies, are experiencing credential shortages in particularly high paying middle skills jobs opportunities, and understanding how local providers could be investing more in those programs in particular, in order to provide more opportunity for their local residents.

So we’re really excited about that work, and it builds directly off of the work that we’ve done in the Great Misalignment.

Drumm McNaughton: Oh, great. Kathryn?

Kathryn Campbell: to add to that, outside of the alignment space, we also have a couple of reports we’re anticipating, one that’s on law degrees and the return on investment of those degrees specifically, and one that looks much more broadly at graduate degrees and the cost and benefit analysis for those degrees more broadly as they have become increasingly popular as a route to opportunity in the workforce.

Drumm McNaughton: Well, I look forward to seeing those come out, and we’ll have you back on the show when they do.

Zack Mabel: Can’t wait.

Kathryn Campbell: Thank you. It’s always great to talk with you.

Drumm McNaughton: Likewise. Look forward to the next time. Take care.

Kathryn Campbell: Thanks. You too.

Zack Mabel: Thanks so much.

Drumm McNaughton: Thanks for listening today and a special thank you to Dr. Zack Mabel and Kathryn Campbell from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and for their sharing with us their latest study, The Great Misalignment, and they’re excellent insights on what’s going on in these markets.

Join us for our next episode when we welcome Gil Rogers, founder and CEO of GR7 Marketing, to the program. Gil has focused his career on education technology companies and marketing, and he’ll be joining us to give us his insights on how enrollment funnel is and has changed, and what higher ed institutions can do to increase their enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates.

Thanks again for listening. See you next time.



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