Future Focus

Promoting adult education in a fully employed economy

Month after month the job market picture for the US economy continues to show consistent strength. While the June 2018 unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4.0% from 3.8%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported another increase of 213,000 jobs for the month. It seems like any business you visit right now has a help wanted sign in the front window, with some paying substantial signing bonuses for new employees. While this continues to provide good news for the economy as a whole, it certainly presents challenges to post-secondary education providers.


For trade and vocational programs, low unemployment limits the demand for new enrollments as training is no longer required to secure a job. Likewise, for advanced degree institutions, employers are already paying premium wages to recruit and retain employees without the ability to require higher levels of education attainment. This limits the motivation for students to pursue additional degree completions and limits their gains in earning potential after graduation.


While these are certainly challenges, with good planning and an effective strategy institutions can still be successful. After all, the key value proposition of the education is a better job after graduation.  A strong job market is always a positive to promote high placement rates and the ability for graduates to capitalize on the value of their education.


A few key areas to focus on in the current job market:


  • Education programs must align with job demand – there are simply too many options available to students to not have great alignment with employer needs. Make sure that you are reviewing your portfolio both to offer the right programs that align with your local employer needs but also that the skills being taught in the programs are the same as what most employers in the area require.


  • Engage employers in the recruitment process – ultimately the pain of open positions falls on the employer. More and more of them are willing and eager to participate in getting more people trained to become future employees but they don’t know how to do it. Employers are used to calling Career Services rather than Admissions to find new candidates. Engage them early in your admission process to sell the benefit of education and leverage their support to create new enrollments.


  • Shorter is better – whether it is bootcamps, stackable credentials, or competency based programs, the trend is absolutely in the direction of shorter-term, more skill focused education.  If you can offer the education needed in 24 months instead of 36 months, do it. If you can offer it in 12 weeks instead of 9 months, make it happen.  With a variety of jobs available, consumers want to be out and working as quickly as possible. Additionally many employers will offer students jobs once they have completed core courses rather than waiting for them to complete a degree program anyway so shortening the horizon to completion is the best way to ensure that students start and finish.






Mike McHugh, CEO