2021: A New Year and a New Beginning for our Education System, Learners, and the Workforce
By Rick Torres, President and CEO, National Student Clearinghouse
2020 was truly a year unlike any other.
Our country and our communities were challenged in unthinkable ways that will impact us for years to come. Beyond the pandemic’s public health consequences, we also had to grapple with an uncertain labor market and a long-overdue conversation about race and equity in our country. I am proud to say that the National Student Clearinghouse worked to shed light on these critical issues as we all work to heal and recover.
The recent riots in the Capitol are a stark reminder that we did not leave our troubles behind in 2020. The attack is a reminder that we will need to confront our biggest policy questions in a more open and inclusive manner. In short, we need to go about the business of policymaking and transformation through conversations and debate that are not a continuation of the narratives of mistrust.
WE need to embark in these conversations by stating where our points of unity are and there are many. When it comes to identifying equity gaps in education and social trajectory potential, the source of data anchoring these conversations need to be neutral, normalized, and unbiased. I believe that this reality only deepens the purpose and the goals of the Clearinghouse’s mission as we look to help learners, institutions of learning, and the education community use data to help inform the road forward.
Our role is to be a premier reliable source of national, regional, and local accurate and reliable data, insights, and transparency on some of the most critical issues we face. We cannot address our nation’s challenges and bring about positive change without trustworthy information driving a civil discourse about our future.
The Clearinghouse’s initiatives are wrapped around two fundamental concepts: opening the doors of opportunity through awareness of non-traditional approaches to work and being intentional about the diversity, equity, and inclusion impacts on both adult and traditional-age learners as they look to navigate through these new and expanded pathways.
The future of work and reengineering the education to workforce continuum
Millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the recession are caught in a situation of wondering whether their jobs will return and/or whether their skills are employable in other industry verticals and roles. There are currently very few tools available at scale to enable this type of skills assessment and offer insights into potential, relevant opportunities. Meanwhile, employers too often overlook qualified candidates because they did not have traditional credentials when they may have had relevant experiences. This is a significant challenge given only about a third of the adult population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Employers and educational institutions need to adapt to the changing nature of our labor market and embrace skills from experienced workers that are often overlooked. We need to rethink how we educate and hire in 2021. Involving the industry players in the process of helping to define the appropriate and accelerated pathways that enable a lifelong learner (traditional age through to a displaced worker) is one of the essential ingredients that make up the Future of Work.
Through national initiatives such as the Learning and Employment Record (LER), the Clearinghouse is providing critical information that can help organizations join in, adapt and adopt and thrive. This is about enabling the learner to truly reflect what they have learned by linking traditional and non-traditional credentials and achievements to their corresponding skills. The Clearinghouse’s participation in the cyber pilot featuring Myhub’s learner pathway tools, and institutional career and placement counselor tools all work to open the doors to new opportunities. Efforts such as the Open Skills Network and Credential Engine are about making the edu-workforce, skills-based economy a possibility through standards-based approaches to skills and credentials.
Identifying equity gaps and facilitating the enablement of social trajectory change
Meanwhile, the Clearinghouse has made a commitment to help institutions, policymakers, and education organizations examine the systemic inequity in lifelong learning, starting in K-12 and lasting into the workforce. Last year’s tragic events, followed by protests, forced many Americans to confront and make the intentional decision to take generative action steps to address these inequities. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous students are less likely to enroll and complete college, and the pandemic is only exacerbating this disturbing reality. Virtual learning exposed that over nine million students lack internet access at home and many more have internet connections that can’t sustain a school days’ worth of virtual classes.
The pandemic is a wake-up call for our education system, and we must now address the severe inequities that plague school districts throughout our country. This includes providing enabling technologies that can help open the door to opportunity for disadvantaged populations. Providing the data and analytical platform where thousands of education organizations invested in trajectory change can assess the quality of their work, their interventions and share best practices. This is the next level of support required to meet the needs of learners.
Efforts such as the Postsecondary Data Partnership and Myhub will serve to meet this nationally consequential set of data-driven conversations. In the coming year, the Clearinghouse will continue the conversation on educational inequity and provide data to help the academic community make informed decisions on making our schools, workplaces, and economy work for everyone.
As the son of immigrants, I have never taken our democracy for granted. Recent events have reminded us that our health, livelihoods, and democracy is not guaranteed. Yet, I remain optimistic that we can take on our greatest challenges with the help of accurate and reliable information and civil discourse.
This year, with the deepest commitment we can make, we will further enable learners, institutions, and enterprises to move forward and rebuild in 2021. Happy new year!
“This year, with the deepest commitment we can make, we will further enable learners, institutions, and enterprises to move forward and rebuild in 2021.”
President and CEO, National Student Clearinghouse