April 18, 2023
The Project on Workforce at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy has released new research highlighting the disconnect between higher education and the labor market. Co-directors David Deming, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and Joseph B. Fuller, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, lead the College-to-Jobs Initiative, which includes a first-of-its-kind data tool that compares regional college and employment trends, as well as a research-practice playbook that examines programs designed to connect college students to good jobs.
The College-to-Jobs Initiative was inspired by the long-held belief–supported by the economic literature–that a college degree is the key to unlocking economic prosperity in the United States. However, the college earnings premium appears to be declining for the first time in decades and the value proposition of college is beginning to fade in the eyes of many. As education costs continue to skyrocket and student debt mounts, Americans are reconsidering whether college is truly worth the expense.
Colleges are being called upon to evaluate—and improve—the economic outcomes of their students, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students who have been historically underserved by the higher education system. The Project on Workforce’s College-to-Jobs Initiative highlights the data that colleges and communities need to understand and improve student connections to the workforce.
“For students who are fortunate enough to come from families of means and attend selective four-year colleges, there are myriad career opportunities, supports, and individuals guiding them on their path,” Deming, the co-lead of the initiative, says. “However, most students don’t have access to such resources, and the journey from college to career is not an easy one. I would like to change that–and I hope this research begins to shed light on, and draw attention to, the challenge.”
The initiative includes the interactive College-to-Jobs Map, which pulls together public data and job postings data from Lightcast, a leading labor market analytics firm, to create the most comprehensive picture of the regional college-to-jobs ecosystem to date. The map is paired with Delivering on the Degree: The College-to-Jobs Playbook, a detailed analysis of programs and policies, from career coaching to internships, that connect college students to quality employment and high earnings. The playbook highlights the research behind the programs, as well as their prevalence in practice and feasibility of implementation, providing a clear picture of the actions that colleges, employers, and other stakeholders can take to improve college students’ job and earnings outcomes.
The research identifies a hole in the field: data on economic outcomes–particularly, employment and earnings–of college students. Such information is rarely collected, and, when it is recorded, it is often siloed and inaccessible. Moreover, data rarely cover the span of an individual's career. This means we know far too little about which programs are effective in improving job prospects for students, and which investments colleges and their partners should make to improve the workforce pipeline.
Fuller, the co-lead of the initiative, underscores this challenge. “When we started this project, we saw a huge gap in the types of data available. For employers, higher education leaders, and policymakers to make smart, informed decisions, we need better data that connects education to employment outcomes, so we have a good idea of what works.”
The College-to-Jobs Map is the first tool to connect regional higher education and workforce data, allowing users to visualize the graduate supply and employment demand challenges facing their communities. There are tremendous implications for highlighting labor market gaps using data–for colleges to deliver on their mission of economic mobility, cross-sector leaders and practitioners need the data to inform how to better align curriculum with workforce needs.
For more information on the College-to-Jobs Initiative: https://www.pw.hks.harvard.edu/college-to-jobs
About the Project on Workforce
The Project on Workforce is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project between the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Project produces and catalyzes basic and applied research at the intersection of education and labor markets for leaders in business, education, and policy. The Project’s research aims to help shape a postsecondary system of the future that creates more and better pathways to economic mobility and forges smoother transitions between education and careers.