“Improving access to college and helping students complete their education remain worthy goals. Strada’s mission is to go a step further, ensuring that Americans gain the workplace skills they need to launch meaningful careers.”
William D. Hansen
President and CEO, Strada Education Network
In several key respects, from producing groundbreaking research that seeds innovation to graduating students with strong economic prospects, America’s colleges and universities remain the best in the world.
But too many Americans are being left behind by a system that in other crucial ways feels broken and irrelevant.
Huge numbers of undergraduates – disproportionately from low-income and minority communities – start college but don’t make it to graduation and fail to enjoy the benefits that come with degree completion.
Millions more working-class adults don’t have a foothold in the postsecondary system at all, in an era when developing and sustaining skills after high school is more important than ever for career advancement.
Even those who earn degrees may find themselves ill-prepared for a fast-changing labor market, a disconnect often noted by employers but too little recognized by education providers.
At Strada Education Network, we see these systemic failures as a serious threat to opportunity – but also as a chance to deploy our distinctive network to make good on education’s promise of social and economic mobility. Our mission is straightforward but ambitious: to improve lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment.
We promote learning opportunities that help prepare Americans for better jobs in three main ways:
- Research on consumer views of postsecondary education and on the future of work that yields new insights into how postsecondary education can adapt to best meet the needs of more learners.
- Philanthropy and investments that catalyze promising, evidence-based strategies, especially for helping low-income Americans.
- A network of affiliate organizations delivering on-the-ground solutions for the needs of learners and educational institutions.
As we pursue our mission, serving the education consumer is central to our vision for change. It has become clear to us that we need new pathways for more learners to navigate a postsecondary education and training system that is more accountable, accessible, and relevant. That’s why we’ve been systematically surveying an unprecedented sample of American adults – now more than 340,000 of them – to better understand their experiences and their aspirations. Where the system falls short, their insights can help suggest solutions to the widening gap between education and the workplace.
This focus on the consumer also drives the New Learning Ecosystem, which puts learners at the center of seamless transitions between education and employment throughout their work lives. Our Institute for the Future of Work has identified five elements crucial for effective lifelong learning and reskilling:
- Helping learners navigate their learning options;
- Creating effective funding models;
- Giving learners precision education and support services;
- Finding better ways to recognize diverse learning experiences and skills and endorse them for employers; and
- Opening doors to jobs through clear alignments of applicants’ skills and the talent needs of employers.
But turning these research-driven ideas into action will require a hard-headed look at what has and hasn’t worked in the past.
On the public policy front, massive federal investments in education and training have yielded disappointing results: in fifty years we have barely moved the needle on the percentage of students from the bottom quartile of family income attaining a college degree by age 24. As for employers, more than half of the $170 billion they invest in formal training each year is targeted at workers who already have bachelor’s degrees.
To find better practical solutions, especially for the new majority of adult learners, Strada is working closely with governors and state policymakers on the front lines of reform. By investing in states and communities, we help innovative policymakers align education and workforce development to increase economic mobility for those who need it most.
In our state work, as in everything we do across our network, from research, grantmaking, and investing to the work of our affiliates, we care deeply about achieving results. To measure outcomes, we have distilled what matters most to us to three things: completion, value, and purpose.
- We want to see more Americans complete postsecondary credentials, not just by navigating the current system but through new and more accessible paths.
- We want them to be satisfied with the career and financial value of whatever postsecondary education they pursue, inside or outside the traditional system.
- We want their credentials to give them purpose through objective measures like getting jobs, increasing earnings, and forging good career paths.
Each of these outcomes is vital, but none by itself is sufficient. Like three legs of a stool, completion, value, and purpose must all be in place to be effective.
We know enough about the challenges of this work to know we can’t do it alone. Lasting change will require the focused efforts of states, innovative educators, committed employers, mission-driven nonprofits, and strategic investors. As we push to make education more career-relevant, to help adult learners, to connect hiring to skills, and to promote multiple credential pathways, we are proud to inform, fund, and amplify the efforts of many others. Together, we can create an education to employment system that is truly centered on consumers. It’s time to get to work.