These new information tools offer big help to college students and job-seekers
Research and Evaluation

These new information tools offer big help to college students and job-seekers

Young adult coding on multi-screens.

New technology designed with a human touch is helping people make sense of their higher-ed and job-search choices. Amid college enrollment declines and increasing labor demands during the pandemic recovery, programs are popping up across the nation to help students, workers, and job-seekers navigate their choices and find better ways to learn, earn, and contribute their talents.

One example comes from Data for the American Dream (D4AD), an initiative whose state partners include New Jersey, Colorado, and Michigan. The D4AD programs offer access to state-of-the-art education and jobs data—high-quality information that leads to more informed choices about education programs and careers. The New Jersey program, for instance, offers the Training Explorer tool and seeks continuous feedback from users to ensure that the information offered is valuable, relevant, and easy to use.

Similarly, regional efforts such as “Bendable” in South Bend, Indiana, have paired high-tech tools with human supports to create a learning platform for all their residents. Today, that popular initiative has been adopted as a statewide program in Maine.

As the nation recovers from the COVID crisis, these programs provide valuable insights for others working to improve access to education and workforce training. Some of the things we’re learning:

  • Bring in the community’s voice early and often. Engage diverse stakeholders to make sure the tool reflects the community’s needs, interests, and makeup.
  • Personalize the experience: Customize the tool’s information by user type, such as career choices or barriers to overcome, so people can easily navigate the data and find the answers they need.
  • Build opportunities for reflection. Regularly ask questions and seek feedback about what is being learned, and refine the systems as needed.
  • Help those who lack Wi-Fi. Find ways to get the information to those who lack internet access or struggle with technology. Pair them with trusted partners, when possible.

It’s a natural fit for Lumina Foundation to invest in these efforts. We also learn from these programs through evaluations led by FSG and American Institutes for Research. Our goal is to simplify Americans’ lives so they aren’t forced to sift through often unreliable or incomplete information about learning, training, and work. The more they know, the better they’ll be protected from inferior programs and providers—and the more likely they are to succeed.

As we help people come back from the pandemic and make life-changing decisions, it’s important to build on what we already know: Technological tools are most effective when a diverse community of users helps create them. In other words: Build it together and they will come.

[Wendy Sedlak, Ph.D., is strategy director for research and evaluation at Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation that strives for racial equity as it helps all Americans obtain education beyond high school. Sedlak synthesizes data and evidence to help guide Lumina’s strategy and measure the foundation’s progress. Previously, she worked at Equal Measure, where she directed complex national systems-change evaluations.]

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