The Postsecondary Paradox: Costly Degrees and the Skills Gap

College graduates in the United States face a self-destructive challenge today. The cost of higher education is skyrocketing, translating into decades of loan payments, and traditional college coursework is not preparing students with the skills needed in today’s job market. So, while more high school graduates than ever are choosing to pursue postsecondary education, the costly but necessary degrees they are earning are not always bringing them success in the job market. The Pioneer Institute’s 27th annual Better Government Competition sought solutions to this postsecondary paradox.

The 2018 Better Government Competition attracted entries from think tanks, government agencies, universities, non-profit organizations, and workforce training programs. All entries demonstrated a clear nationwide effort to address the rising costs of education, student debt crisis, and workforce skills gap that are plaguing the United States right now.

Two overarching themes tie the submissions together. First, there needs to be more coordination between educational institutions and companies or industries with job openings so that graduates are better prepared to enter the workforce. Second, there needs to be more investment in dynamic educational programs that increase students’ access to higher education.

Submissions included ideas and programs that utilize technology to increase the availability of online courses, tailoring education to the needs of manufacturing firms, and introducing job training earlier on in students’ educational careers. Others focused on investment strategies, such as programs that promote investing in children’s education earlier on and connecting investors directly to students to lessen dependence on traditional lending agencies.

Many of the proposals are currently being implemented in local communities across the country; some are even expanding across the world. It is clear efforts are being made to combat the student debt and job market crises. Many of the ideas are easily scalable and replicable, and most are very low cost. Access to higher education and postsecondary training is becoming more crucial as the American economy becomes more dependent on high-tech firms with skilled workers and industries that require specific training like agriculture and healthcare.


We will recognize the winning entries at the Better Government Competition Awards Gala in September. If you are interested in attending the event, click here to learn more.

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