In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new effort to help Americans get “the skills employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now” by increasing apprenticeships and community college training programs.
The president is absolutely right to focus on using higher education to increase employment. If we really want to make progress, however, he needs go to beyond the steps he outlined. All types of colleges and universities will need to be involved—and they’ll have to adjust to two seismic shifts in the landscape of higher education.
The “traditional” college student aged 18 to 22 is no longer the norm. Many people still think that the typical college student is an 18- to 22-year-old who’s attending a four-year residential institution. But according to some estimates, nontraditional students—returning adults, part-time students, midcareer professionals, and every other permutation of learner—now make up 85 percent of all undergraduates. The exploding numbers of such new students is what I call “the rise of the rest.”