Research published in 2020 by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that there is untapped potential in older students. As many as 30 million adults currently employed in low-wage jobs have what it takes to “upskill.” In doing so, they would increase their take-home pay by 70%. These adults represent enrollment opportunities for Michigan’s community colleges.
The NBER focused on workers who have a high school diploma but not a college degree. Their research showed that a significant percentage of low-wage workers possessed the skills they needed to perform more demanding (and more valuable) work. The sectors where workers could reap the highest rewards included computer, technology and management occupations.
The key to unlocking a higher wage tier is education. When workers with the right skill set also received technical training or a more formal education, they were able to transition to higher paying occupations. The researchers identified the most transferrable skills, which included written and verbal skills; time management; problem-solving; attention to detail and technological literacy.
Currently, about 75% of employers require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification for employment, even though most jobs don’t actually require that level of education. Educational credentials that are more focused on specific technical or occupational skills can adequately prepare people for the workforce.
While employers are focusing on degrees, community colleges often focus on recruiting or enrolling fresh high-school graduates. Colleges can fill their classrooms with transfer students, but they often overlook the benefits of recruiting older students. Older students have been in the workforce for several years, and have developed the skills that employers need and value most. By not making a significant effort to recruit older students, community colleges miss enrollment opportunities. They also miss the chance to turn out more marketable, more valuable graduates.
Enrollment opportunities beyond Michigan Reconnect
The State of Michigan has created a program to address this specific issue. Michigan Reconnect is designed to find older workers and support them throughout a college degree program. The program, which is currently accepting applications, provides free community college tuition for workers over the age of 25 who do not have a college degree.
Michigan Reconnect is an awesome idea, but it doesn’t take state funding to recruit older students. Federal financial aid can provide most or all of the funding these older workers need. In addition, certain federal grant programs – like the Pell Grant – can help pay for tuition, fees, room-and-board, and books. Pell Grants may cover the student’s entire cost of attendance, depending upon his/her financial circumstances.
Older students may not be aware of federal financial aid opportunities, or may not know how (or when) to file. They may not know how to access prior educational transcripts, or they may require additional academic counseling assistance. Regardless, they represent enrollment opportunities for WCC and untapped potential for local employers.
More than half of Michigan’s adult population has only a high school diploma. Each of these individuals represent untapped enrollment opportunities for both the College. They also represent untapped talent potential for local employers. As long as these adults exist in Michigan in high numbers, there is no reason for WCC to chase “other revenue” that is unrelated to its mission of educating Washtenaw County residents.
Photo Credit: Naila Remington , via Flickr