UT will integrate microloans for workforce skills in low-wage majors

The University of Texas system is piloting a program to insert professional skills valued by employers into the four-year curriculum, with the goal of increasing earnings for alumni of majors who typically earn the lowest salaries.

These microcredits can range from digital skills to data analysis to business skills such as project management, said Lydia Riley, director of academic affairs for the UT system. The eight colleges will decide in a few weeks, she said, and credentials should be available to students next fall.

Skill-based degrees and certificates have always been offered by community colleges and a facet of vocational and technical training designed to help people find jobs. In contrast, four-year colleges and universities have focused primarily on getting students through the graduation stage, not on whether their skills will be directly transferable to the job market. .

“It’s no longer enough to think about helping our students cross the finish line,” said Courtney McBeth, senior vice president and program director at Strada Education Network, which is helping to fund the project. “But we also need to think about ‘what are the outcomes beyond completion, in terms of economic mobility, first job, employment?’

“It’s an ‘and’ solution,” she said. “It’s not degrees against degrees anymore.”

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Texas micro-certificate integration is one of 15 projects designed to improve post-graduation outcomes for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds; low-income or first-generation students; and students who have transferred or are working while studying. The projects, funded by the Strada Education Network and the Higher Education and Opportunity Task Force, include structured job skills training, the development of mentorship programs and guidance for students as they enter the job market. work.

McBeth said the projects underscore the idea that career services can no longer be relegated to a single office on campus — they must be a shared responsibility among faculty, staff and counselors. She said Strada hopes that models like the one being developed at the University of Texas system can eventually be used by other institutions to help more students, and that Strada plans to share what is learned. .

The effort to link the curriculum to workforce skills follows a recent Strada and Gallup survey which found that adults with both college and non-university degrees graduates said their education helped them achieve their goals, made them attractive candidates and worthwhile. cost – and reported it at higher rates than those with only a college degree.

Although they perceived their education to have been more valuable, their reported earnings and job satisfaction were not significantly higher than those who had a college degree but no non-degree, the survey found. Riley said UT hopes its approach can help students increase their income over time.

“It’s no longer enough to think about helping our students cross the finish line. We also need to think about what are the outcomes beyond completion, in terms of economic mobility, first job, employment outcomes? »

Courtney McBeth, Senior Vice President and Director of Programs, Strada Education Network

The program in Texas is a pilot project. If all goes well, microcertificates could also be rolled into other majors, so more students can benefit, Riley said. Riley said the University of Texas system received a $50,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to help fund the program, which aims to serve about 3,700 undergraduate students by the end of 2022.

Once the eight colleges present their selected majors and relevant degrees to Riley in early March, she said, they will begin to figure out how to integrate them so students have a better chance of succeeding. It will depend on individual campuses, she said, but some of the credentials will likely be built into the course curriculum, others could work in tandem with a student’s regular course load or serve as a kind synthesis project.

Riley said colleges identify majors using data from seekUT, an online tool that uses the U.S. Census, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Workforce Commission to track employment and salary data. graduate students from the University of Texas.

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The majors whose graduates tend to earn the lowest salaries after graduation are majors such as drama, studio art, creative writing, psychology, and anthropology. The median annual salary of these majors, one year out of college, is around $30,000 or less.

But some majors that are traditionally seen as pathways to higher-paying jobs also appear low on the list. At UT Austin, biochemistry graduates earn a median salary between $26,000 and $29,000 one year after graduation, depending on whether they earned a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science and Arts. But they see significantly larger increases in median salary after five and ten years after graduation compared to studio art and general humanities majors.

At UT Dallas, graduates in biochemistry, biology, cognition, and neuroscience are the three majors with the lowest median salaries one year after graduation — all around $30,000. Environmental science graduates from UT El Paso earn about $19,000 and biochemistry graduates about $20,000, a year later.

Earnings data alone will not determine which majors are selected for the pilot program, as colleges are also expected to consider which majors enroll a disproportionate number of students of color.

After selecting majors for the pilot program, each campus will interview local workforce leaders to select relevant micro-titles, to ensure they will actually help graduates achieve better jobs more easily, Riley said.

McBeth said workforce partnerships are critical to the success of these programs and help colleges prepare their students to meet local workforce needs.

“The more we can bring together the economic development workforce and higher education leaders to ensure that individuals have access and can complete their education and have meaningful careers and lives, that really matters. “McBeth said.

“We know that a liberal arts education and problem-solving, higher-order critical thinking skills, combined with industry-relevant skills, prepare these students for long-term academic, personal and professional success. .”

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