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05 / 2019 article

The Future of Work: Bringing U.S. Federal Policy into The 21st Century


It seems that almost every day we see headlines screaming the great news that unemployment levels are at record lows or that there are more job opportunities in the marketplace than there are individuals looking for one. There is no question that these are great signs for the U.S. economy. However, the headlines obscure a very real fragility in the marketplace, driven in part by U.S. government policies that are in desperate need of modernization if American businesses are to have the talent they need to compete in the 21st century.

A modern economy needs a modern approach to education — not one that discards all the opportunity of the current system of higher education. Rather, we need an approach that complements and adapts our system of education to move at life’s speed. Moving at life’s speed means moving quickly to enable a new employee to develop skills while on the job, thus creating opportunity and satisfying the needs of employers. Moving at life’s speed also means enabling a deliberate process to empower an individual to seek a full education as his or her life allows and not on an arbitrary timeline that is measured in years on a campus.

Education at Life’s Speed

Enabling education at life’s speed will be transformational for people’s lives and for the workforce. While solutions from the private sector can and should drive this evolution of higher education, it is also critical that federal policies embrace and support this evolution in the 21st century — just as federal policies have supported the mission of higher education in the centuries before. If the U.S. government is to be an able partner to the future of business and the workforce, this support needs to evolve in three key areas:

1. Accreditation

Right now, the higher education system sits alone as the arbiter of whether an educational experience has adequately prepared an individual for a career. In a liberal arts context, that approach may be adequate. But in a world where one pursues an education to prepare for a specific occupation, it only makes sense that determinations about what educational experience qualifies for federal support needs to be broad enough to include those businesses that have a need for skills yet be blind to the entity that provides the educational experience. This approach will open pathways to education that haven’t even been considered yet.

2. Flexibility

When you know that there is something coming that can’t be seen yet, flexibility may be the most important factor in being ready for the unknown. We know that higher education will evolve, but we don’t know what tomorrow’s form may take. Thus, it is critical that federal policies afford flexibility to leverage public and private funding to support an education at life’s speed, in whatever form that may take.

3. Transparency

Throughout the course of markets, transparency has been a universal key to success because the more people know, the more informed their decisions will be. All parties — from the individual seeking a pathway to a new career to the business who needs to hire to expand — will benefit from more granular and real-time information about the marketplace. Evolution without transparency empowers the few, but evolution with transparency empowers everyone.

Looking Toward the Future

Zovio’s mission is to deliver education at life’s speed and fundamentally change the model of higher education in a manner that empowers the individual while strengthening the entrepreneur. In the previous century, the federal government was the underlying force that made higher education accessible to all. With these three key evolutions, the federal government is positioned to be that same force for centuries to come.

Vickie Schray

Executive Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer