How the decline of two-year schools is hurting the American economy
Jobs requiring two-year degrees and certifications are expected to experience the largest level of growth in coming years, yet the number of public institutions specializing in two-year degrees is rapidly diminishing, resulting in negative effects on the economy.
According to studies — most prominently Harvard’s “Pathway to Prosperity” study — rapid job growth is expected in fields requiring two-year technical and academic degrees. But as the demand for two-year degree and certificate holders increases, the number of public institutions providing them is diminishing.
“If you were here in Utah 20 years, the educational landscape was quite different,” said Craig Nelson, vice president of advancement at LDS Business College, which, along with Snow College, he considers to be the last two-year degree focusing schools in the state.
“When you looked back then,” said Nelson, “you would see many more two-year institutions that were designed specifically to get people in, get them trained, and get them out to work.” That has drastically changed over the years, with once-prominent two-year institutions such as Utah Valley State College and Dixie State now adopting the mantle of universities and moving onto focus on four-year degrees. “And (the situation in) Utah is not that different from other states,” Nelson said.
Part of this is natural movement by colleges to move up the academic ladder, with colleges wanting to move up to become universities Nelson said. “But who’s filling the role left behind?” Vocational schools are there for those looking for blue-collar jobs, but for the white-collar worker — the “professional technician” — their options are limited.
With more and more people moving to four-year degrees and schools, students are realizing there are “fewer and fewer jobs where a four-year degree is the critical (factor).” This is leading to a problem of “academics leaving (the arena of two-year degrees),” Nelson said, while at the same time “you have the market moving to that arena (of seeking two-year degree holders).” This has led to companies having jobs to fill, but no one to fill them.
Another major issue is that students are seeing less and less return on their four-year degree, with high tuition fees not seemingly justified by a weak job market. Public non-profit two-year institutions could help alleviate that, often costing a fraction of the cost. For-profit schools have attempted to fill the vacuum left by public institutions leaving for the four-year arena, but equally high tuition costs there are equally discouraging to students.
In the end, society and the market will likely adjust to meet the growing crisis Nelson predicts, with more two-year institutions popping up to fill the void. However, in an era of government cut backs on education, how certain it is that public schools will fill the void is up for debate, with some predicting that companies will have to provide the necessary training.
Regardless of the mechanism used to fix the problem, the longer the demand for technical workers and academics goes unsupplied — an estimated five million jobs unfilled in 2020 — the more it costs America.
This article was paid for and produced by LDS Business College
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