The New Relationship Between Higher Education and the Corporate World

Over the past few years, there has been a growing discourse addressing the value of enrolling in higher education. The question is not one of preference; 40% of millennial workers obtained a bachelor’s degree in 2016 compared to 26% of baby boomers in 1985. As this percentage continues to grow with Generation Z entering the workforce, it seems that going to college is more preferable now than ever. However, it should also be considered that even though tuition rates and student housing costs have skyrocketed over the past few decades, the average starting salary for bachelor’s degree earners has increased by less than $3,000 between 1960 and 2015. Given this trade-off, it can be speculated that the decision to go to college today isn’t made from preference as much as it is necessity.

Last month, Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj asserted in one of his episodes that while having a bachelor’s degree in the 90’s gave applicants a competitive edge in the hiring process, it is now a mandatory qualification to be eligible for an entry-level salary even in industries that do not exhibit high revenue growth rates. Though he followed it with a joke about universities using endowment funds to build theme park attractions, the veracity of his statement still stands. It has become a popular sentiment in the past few years that higher education is now corporatized in an almost irreparable way.

Though enforcing harder requirements for prospective employees to have a college education is better for innovation and productivity across industries, it is unfortunately at the expense of students’ tied hands. Theoretically, higher education costs can continue to increase even as salaries for entry-level positions stay stagnant. Even if institutions begin implementing cost-cutting procedures (as is happening now due to COVID-19), faculty and department staff will be disadvantaged, which in turn limits student opportunity and learning accessibility.

Is it possible to be successful without going to college? Absolutely. But there is no denying that it will be increasingly harder to be established, especially in a post-pandemic economy, without one. The reality is that the amount of money invested into obtaining a degree may end up being more than what that graduate will be projected to earn. Though there are various parties actively fighting the student debt crisis at the civic, corporate, and legislative levels, it is uncertain whether this growing issue will have a solution anytime soon.

This ultimately means that the best decision to be made by students who intend to get a degree is to take advantage of college. It is crucial to gain work and extracurricular experience as a student not only to save time in planning for and applying to jobs after graduation, but to provide a competitive advantage in the workplace, gain networking opportunities, and, most importantly, nurture the potential for industries to advance and assure better and more accessible job opportunities in the future. 

What the Economic Impact of COVID-19 Means for Gen Z

As recent higher education graduates and household income contributors, Generation Z is rapidly becoming one of the largest demographics entering the workforce. Though (in most cases) not yet homeowners or full-time employees, our generation is increasingly contributing to our economy in more ways than we would expect. In 2013, 31% of new businesses were registered by owners under the age of 35 and are now considered the most likely to retain employees. Even though we will inevitably constitute a larger percentage of the workforce over the next few decades, there is no doubt about the impressive entrance we have already made.

Just as we are a generation of great potential, we are also a generation of massive resilience. Our childhoods have been defined by economic downturns, administrative landmarks, social movements, climate change, political protests, and, most recently, a global pandemic.

There is no question of whether we will make it out of situations like this. We will. It is, however, difficult to say when. The loss of life is by far the most irreconcilable change brought upon us by the global pandemic. However, even those who are not directly affected by COVID-19 are subjected to its effects—if not our bodies, it has taken a toll on our livelihoods. The economic impact of COVID-19 means different things for different demographics as it hits homeowners, tenants, business owners, and employees. According to last month’s data from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, it will take until 2021 at the earliest for the nation’s economy
to stabilize (contingent on vaccine development), but the unpredictable nature of communicable outbreaks could easily change this estimate.
 Presently, most of the national responses and policies that have taken effect are unprecedented. Millions of Americans have found themselves unsure of what to do next or what they can do next, regardless of what age demographic they
belong to.

Here are some of the most significant workplace changes caused by COVID-19 that impact prospective hires:

1. Budget cuts: Perhaps the most predictable effect, budget cuts to save imminent decreases in revenue across various industries led to laying off non-essential staff, restructuring management and budgeting models, and, in more severe cases, terminating certain departments altogether. As a result, many pre-COVID-19 job openings at companies that were forced to undergo budget cuts were likely removed.

2. Reskilling: as millions of employees made the transition to remote work, management structures have changed at the department level to help everyone adjust to fully virtual work. Regardless of seniority level, most firms have had to offer training and reskilling
procedures to a certain degree. Since this was done internally, potential job openings were held off or overlooked in an effort to stay time and cost effective.

3. Working around traditional hiring methods: Many companies that were in need of new employees and moved forward with their recruiting process had to find a way to channel and accommodate applications in bulk and meet shorter-than-normal turnaround deadlines. As a result, group interviews, prerecorded interviews, questionnaire substitutes, and other less common ways of hiring were implemented in relatively short time spans, with two or three rounds of interviews completed over a span of a week. Under these circumstances, prospective hires faced unusual time constraints and limited ability to prepare.

So, what does this mean for an entire generation of a new labor market? How will these changes impact Generation Z as a demographic that is largely coming into the workforce with these adverse conditions? From now until the near future, the simple answer is employment availability and qualification standards in the hiring process. Many firms are realizing what exactly can be done remotely and what can’t, and the skills and experience necessary for certain roles are bound to change in the future when recruiting teams try to balance what was accessible for prospective hires during all of this and what their company’s departments need. This leaves an opening for students or recent graduates who are ready to start working but are unsure how to navigate it, and much of the technology sector is stepping in to help. Online course services, startups, and video conferencing and online workspace providers offer ways to get connected with companies of interest (Zoom, Cisco Webex), get certified for technical skills (edX, Coursera), and find tailored opportunities based on interest (Seedstages). Though job security in the near future is uncertain, taking advantage of these resources is a good place to start.

So, a word of caution for recent graduates and those currently waiting to receive their diplomas: It’s important to keep looking. Dust off your resume and be prepared for the possibility of cycling through the job application process for the next few years, however strenuous it may be. Secure yourself however you can, both financially and experientially (and though it may not always be ideal, sometimes you may have to look for those things separately). Whatever you do, keep trying. Prepare for the worst, but always remember to hope for the best.

How the Startup Sector is Revolutionizing Social Impact

With the rise of the digital age, movements have garnered support and attention at unprecedented levels. Because of increased media accessibility, organizations like The World Social Forum and Pride and, in more recent years, Black Lives Matter and Who Made My Clothes? have grown in visibility and solidarity as people identify their own values within these entities. As a byproduct, more and more of our workforce is increasingly interested in working for companies and industries that not only maximize their salary, but their impact.

People are less inclined to work for a corporation that openly amasses environmental waste because they now know the specifics of the harm it causes, and they turn their noses at retailers that outsource their suppliers when they learn more about sweatshop conditions. The bottom line is that whether the corporate world keeps up or not, ethical business practices will hold increasing value as media and technology drives social movements. Some entrepreneurs even use impact to build their own business and drive profits, rather than the other way around. Just as passionate visionaries are at the heart of successful corporations, startups are at the heart of a system that integrates social impact into the business world.

According to AngelList’s current directory, there are over 484 social impact startups registered on their site alone, with impact investing firms collectively crossing $500 billion last year. Defined as developing, funding, and implementing solutions to social or environmental causes, social entrepreneurship “narrows the gap” between those who benefit most from existing business and markets and those who benefit the least, according to renowned impact startup investor Mitch Kapor. Impact startups are mission-driven companies that integrate their desired social effect into every step of their business plan, and they perpetuate long-term change through innovation.

These startups address a variety of causes and span many different industries, from healthcare and transportation to education and technology. One such startup is Seedstages, a mobile app that aims to democratize job search processes by helping students match and connect with internships based on their passions and interests. Some other examples include Change.org, Pathao, Khan Academy, and Narayana Health. These businesses are based on models that hope to narrow the scope of a broader issue, which in turn increases their prospects of longevity and providing continued support.

Balancing for-profit work with community-oriented resources is another way startups can make successful social impact ventures. According to a 2018 article published in Entrepreneur, these companies have dedicated teams and management to connect their business practices with social enterprise, and they put effort into working with platforms and institutions that validate and support their impact. With the help of impact investment firms like Kapor Capital, MaRS, and Big Path Capital, these startups are able to turn their initiatives into ongoing endeavors.

Social impact inherently means to even the playing field in some context in a certain capacity. Many startups approach impact efforts by using innovation to relieve consumer inaccessibility. Popular businesses like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb among many others strive to make their services as accessible and user-friendly as possible. Though these companies are not setting out to solve social issues, their social entrepreneurship simultaneously provides sources of income and easily available, affordable services.

So, by having mission-driven business models, balancing for-profit work with community-oriented resources, and relieving consumer inaccessibility with innovation, startups have revolutionized large-scale social impact. In an imperfect world, there will always be a need for social entrepreneurship. And though the future is unpredictable, startups continue to be a leading force in creating social impact and serve as a beacon for hope for lasting change.