Layoffs are making headlines again.
After a period when it seemed employers couldn’t hire fast enough – which unfortunately led some young people to forgo university in favor of readily available work – things are slowing down. And perhaps most terrifying, layoffs affect even blue-chip, successful companies. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is laying off 12,000 employees. Microsoft will lay off 10,000. Amazon laid off 10,000 — and then started laying off another 8,000. Goldman Sachs laid off 3,000; advertising agencies, media companies and even video game makers are announcing layoffs. Who knows when the layoffs at Twitter will end.
Here’s an obvious lesson: Even when times seem good, they’re not always good, while a college degree will always be a worthwhile investment. Data consistently shows that those with a college degree can earn much more in their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. College prepares students for careers, prepares them for the world of work, prepares them to think critically, adapt to change, and keep learning.
But as I watch the news of layoffs – even at a time when unemployment thankfully remains at or near its all-time low – I am reminded once again that the university can play an important role not only in educating people for their careers, but throughout the work life cycle. And that is even more the case now than before.
It’s long been a truism that higher education is a countercyclical business – when the economy is in bad shape, people see an opportunity to go back to school, especially high school.
But changes in the way higher education works today, especially beyond undergraduate education, are making it even easier to integrate lifelong learning into the lives of adult learners.
Especially after the pandemic, online education is a reality at almost all institutions. Of course, that means you can enroll in a specific program that fits your needs, whether or not you live near the school offering it. But it also means you can take courses at a nearby college or university without having to find time in your busy schedule to commute – or even, in many cases, without having to be available at specific, pre-scheduled times.
Colleges and universities are also rapidly expanding their offerings for degree-producing courses that don’t require the workload of a full-time degree. We call them certificates and badges, and while they can help you earn a master’s degree, they can also give you a specific credential that will help you get ahead.
It’s programs like that, I think, that can be most helpful to those facing a career change in this current tumultuous time. Being laid off when the job market is generally strong is no incentive to enroll in a graduate program that takes several years to master a new field. But a six-week program that teaches you a new kind of data analytics, or an eight-week certification course for a different type of software, is always manageable, affordable, and valuable. That means that a recent layoff can be just the stimulus you need to learn something new and give your career a new direction. Employers could even include incentives for such programs in their severance pay.
As the world around us changes so quickly, higher education institutions are adapting to keep up. We are committed to meeting students where they are, to offering programs that meet specific needs, and to opening our doors to a wider range of students than we have had in the past. In other words, we’re here to be a resource not just when you’re in your early twenties, but throughout your life. As the job market gets bumpier, it’s time more people took advantage of that opportunity.