Three percent of welders in the U.S. are women. Esparza is a 46-year-old mechanic for Evolution Fresh, a subsidiary of Starbucks that makes juices and smoothies. He's taking a class in industrial computing taught by a community college at a local manufacturing plant in the hope it will bump up his wages. The skills being taught here are in high demand. That's in part because so much effort has been put into encouraging high school graduates to go to college for academic degrees rather than for training in industrial and other trades that many fields like his face worker shortages.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. When Julie VanCleave was laid off from Maytag a decade ago, as the appliance manufacturer pulled all of its operations out of Newton, Iowa, she was anxious about what was next. For nearly two decades, she had worked as a secretary. She lacked a college degree. She was 50 years old.
The first year after the Great Recession, 2010, marked the historical peak of college and university enrollment in the United States. In the decade since, a popular narrative has emerged that the value of a college degree is rapidly declining. As a new wave of well-capitalized educational technology companies arrived on the scene -- including massive open online courses (MOOCs) -- it became popular to prognosticate about the disruption of American higher education. Badges earned online would challenge and replace traditional diplomas. Renowned business theorist Clayton Christensen forecasted that half of all colleges may be in bankruptcy within 15 years.
Today's digital world has created a booming demand for new skills, including the technical knowledge to develop artificial intelligence (AI) tools as well as the aptitude to apply and use AI in the workplace. But a new survey of higher education officials suggests that demand for AI training is outpacing supply and the current ability of higher education institutions to meet that demand. The study, which polled 246 prequalified higher education administrators, educators and IT decision makers from a mix of community colleges, four-year colleges and vocational schools, also suggests that while higher education officials recognize the growing demand for AI instruction, 52% of them say they are struggling to attract instructors to teach AI courses. One reason is that the demand for AI subject matter experts -- and what companies are willing to pay them -- is so high in the commercial sector that schools are having a hard time competing for talent. But the study, conducted in April/May 2021 by EdScoop and underwritten by Dell Technologies and Intel, also found college officials face a variety of other challenges.
Long stigmatized as "junior," community colleges might seem like an unlikely source of talent for major tech companies. Yet, increasingly, some of the biggest tech giants are turning to these two-year schools to find the skilled workers they desperately need. "Community colleges are just absolutely key," in companies' search for new tech talent, says Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent report on the future of work. Tech companies like Amazon, Google and IBM have all caught on, he adds, and the trend of using community colleges to establish talent pipelines for tech companies large and small is "taking off across the country." Americans are burdened with about $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.