Answering the Missing Half of the Education Debate

August 22, 2013 by Emsi Burning Glass

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Here’s another worthwhile article on the issue of higher education and how it prepares young people (or not) for life and work: Alan Kantrow’s “The Missing Half of the Education Debate,” published on Harvard Business Review. Kantrow’s central point caught our eye because it highlights a problem that has driven much of what we do here at EMSI. Kantrow’s point, to put it bluntly, is that … we’re missing it.

Kantrow observes that, despite all the national discussion over (and motivation for) making college more affordable and more accessible, we’re actually holding a lopsided conversation. “The underlying assumption,” he says, “is that because college pretty much does the right things[,] the real challenge society faces is to make sure that all who desire a college education have fair and affordable access to it. I do not question the importance or the difficulty of the challenge, I question the basic assumption.”

The fact is, it doesn’t matter whether college is affordable or accessible if, once students get there, they have no idea what to do, why they’re doing it, or what they’re aiming for. For many young people, the general motivation to get a degree is already present thanks to the universal (and accurate) assumption that employees with a piece of paper generally earn more than those who don’t. Unemployment is far lower among college grades (4.9%) than among those without a college education (16.2%), and on top of that, four-year college graduates will earn 84% more than those who simply complete high school. (See more education-related data at Education at a Glance.) So if education is all about the promise of getting a good job, why aren’t more high-schoolers heading for college halls?

“What’s missing from this happy conversation,” Kantrow points out, “is an equal level of attention to how few students make it through college … and how poorly many of them do in finding the well-paying work for which their education prepares them.”

Affordable? Good idea. Accessible? Let’s do it. But what about a clear path to a solid career? What about not just getting students enrolled, but keeping them enrolled? What about not just graduating them, but training them from the get-go on the trajectory for the job that’s right for them?

That’s the problem.

That’s what the education debate is missing.

And that’s where EMSI comes in. As Kantrow asserts: “Executives need to do more about these issues than just talk or exert influence as alumni or school trustees. They know well that only what gets effectively measured gets properly managed. They should, therefore, follow the imaginative lead of companies such as Boeing, which provides data to colleges on how education has helped its new hires develop the skills and capabilities their jobs require. After all, colleges need access to tangible, ground-level information showing the correlation between the curriculum and learning experiences they provide and real-world outcomes in terms of usable skills and capabilities” (emphasis added).

EMSI provides just that sort of tangible, ground-level information to both higher ed institutions and their students. How do we do this?

On the program-planning side of things, Analyst shows higher ed institutions all the factors that should impact their decisions: total jobs, job change, earnings,

demographics, openings (a measure of new jobs plus turnover), completions by degree and institution, and current job postings. With Analyst, colleges can easily discern the compelling jobs in their region, and what programs to offer that train for those jobs.

As for the students themselves, Career Coach arms them with a vital career vision — a

concrete, feasible goal that will inspire them to enroll, find the right program, stick it out through graduation, and head into the workforce knowing what they want to do as well as what they’re qualified to do. No more muddied career counseling. With a few clicks on the online tool, students discover exactly what’s hot in their region and how the college can equip them with the skills they need to get there.

Kantrow’s article zeroes in on what EMSI has made it our mission to do: give people good data that will boost economic prosperity across the board. As he aptly points out: “Colleges can’t fix things if they, too, have access only to half a conversation. Business can, and must, supply the other half.”

Here at EMSI, we’re hustling to do just that.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about EMSI’s tools, please contact Rob Sentz ( You can also download brochures for Analyst and Career Coach.