People wait in line, resumes in hand, to apply for jobs during an outdoor hiring event in Las Vegas in April. (John Locher/AP)

Americans are rethinking work. How must education change?

This newsletter is about the role of higher ed in society. Each week, we highlight how college is (or is not) working for citizens and communities. It goes out most Friday mornings — If someone forwarded this to you, you can sign up for your own copy here.


Massive Upheaval

Education and work are evolving rapidly, and news coverage isn’t keeping up. So, this week, we’ve launched Work Shift.

It’s a digital hub for news, analysis, and opinion focused squarely on the intersection of those worlds—and whether education and training are delivering the talent and opportunity that society needs.

“Call it the ‘great reassessment of work,’ the ‘great resignation,’ or the ‘big churn.’ Whatever the case, today’s job market is facing massive upheaval amid growing evidence that millions of Americans are rethinking what they want from work,” write Elyse Ashburn, editor of Work Shift, and Paul Fain, contributing editor who also writes our newsletter The Job.

“There’s a shift underway—and whether it ends up being seismic or something smaller, it has major implications for the way we educate and prepare people for careers.”

On the Ground

Their story this week introduces us to people who are on the front lines of connecting education to career, driving change amid the uncertainty of this moment. Among them are:

Minny Kouanechao, director of early childhood education at Kelly Education, a staffing firm for schools and childcare centers, who is slowly rebuilding its pool of early childhood educators after it dropped in half during the early days of the pandemic. It’s one of many fields facing a severe shortage of workers.

The firm is now aggressively recruiting younger adults—in a sector that has relied heavily on workers who are 55-plus—touting the flexibility of substitute teaching and the ability to attend college while working in the field.

Lynette Correa-Velez, assistant director of career development at Northeastern Illinois University, who says the pandemic has actually made it easier for career services to have a bigger presence. Employers are more willing to host information sessions online, and she’s been able to hold more one-on-one coaching sessions now that they’ve gone virtual.

She’s also found that many students are more willing to open up in that setting than in a formal university office — and that’s important given how much of her work centers on helping students see how a successful career can live alongside other aspects of their identity. Three out of five students at her university are first-generation college-goers, and more than half of undergraduates are eligible for federal Pell Grants.

“Unfortunately, the workplace has shamed people that don’t have middle class or upper middle class backgrounds and accents. So a lot of our students are ashamed that they don’t talk the ‘right’ way, or look the ‘right’ way. And a lot of my coaching is around dealing with that shame.”

* James Mable, director of career and job placement services for the Houston Community College System, who’s hearing from major companies a lot more these days. Amid labor shortages, they’re eager to hire both new graduates and students who need to work while enrolled. To win students, employers are having to be more strategic, offering better benefits and greater flexibility, he says. Even so, he finds that work-based learning can still be a hard sell.

“A lot of times employers are simply trying to fill a job. But I think about a student at a community college — a lot of times this is their first instance of connecting with an employer in their field of interest. We want them to have a foundation, to have opportunities to experiment with their field, to get acclimated to what’s expected.”

More from Work Shift

We’re excited to bring in-depth reporting and analysis to this critical topic. And we want to hear from you. Take this short reader survey and send your feedback and story ideas our way. Also:

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What a New Admissions System Changed

Last month, as part of our Bootstraps podcast series, we explored this question: What’s the fairest way to select 500 eighth graders for a spot at a special high school when 3,000 want to go?

The episode examined a heated admissions battle in the D.C. suburbs, at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, considered one of the best high schools in the country. For the podcast series, we’re collaborating with EdSurge to examine America’s obsession with merit and how that impacts educational opportunity.

At TJ, as the school is known, Black and Hispanic groups each have made up just 2 percent of the student body, even though 27 percent of its district is Hispanic and 10 percent is Black, Jeff Young reported in the Bootstraps episode.

After intense debate, the school changed its admissions system, including by doing away with its special science and math test, designed specifically for TJ. Now, data is out about students who were offered spots in the Class of 2025, the first admitted under the new approach.

The biggest change? One in four of the students admitted this year comes from an economically disadvantaged background, Jeff reports. That compares with less than 1 percent in the past.

The racial makeup for the admitted class looks significantly different, too, Jeff writes. Last year only 1 percent of incoming students were Black; this year 7 percent of admitted students are Black. The proportion of Hispanic students also rose, from 3 percent last year to 11 percent this year.

The only group that is now less represented is Asian-American students. They make up 54 percent of the new class, while in past years, they received between 65 and 75 percent of offers.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Point Park University assistant professor Kendra Ross. The Pittsburgh university, she says, “is an egregiously white space.” (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

In Pittsburgh: “After layoff uproar at Point Park, faculty voice concerns about campus diversity and stability”

In Northeast Ohio: “University of Akron and the city work to strengthen ties through the arts”:

“In a way, we, as an institution, have been preoccupied with some challenges that we’ve had,” the university’s president said. “I think as we move out of those, we need to become now more of a community partner.”

In latitude(s): “Guilt by educational association?” Students are pushing back against a Trump-era policy that denies visas to people who studied at universities affiliated with the Chinese military.

Spotlight

COVID ‘knocked the wind out of’ Navajo Nation and its colleges. Here’s how they’re recovering.
COVID ‘knocked the wind out of’ Navajo Nation and its colleges. Here’s how they’re recovering.www.pbs.org

Many tribal colleges are located in remote areas and often serve older and low-income American Indian students. Many lack access to basic necessities like internet and running water, making learning during the pandemic especially difficult. It’s forced school administrators to find new ways of meeting student needs.

Graduate student researchers at University of California seek union representation

In one of the largest public employee organizing drives California has seen in over a decade, some 17,000 graduate student researchers at the University of California may soon become union members. 

From the heart to higher education: The 2021 college essays on money
From the heart to higher education: The 2021 college essays on moneywww.nytimes.com
Each year, we ask high school seniors to send us college application essays that touch on money, work or social class. Here are five from this year’s incoming college freshmen.

Keep in Touch

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There are gaps not just in where higher ed is being covered but also in what is being covered. So we’re excited to announce that this summer we’ll be hiring three national reporters to cover critical topics that are under-scrutinized.