Why Community Colleges and the Skilled Trades Will Matter Even More Post COVID-19

With unemployment rates rising to new highs and industries suffering from an unprecedented pause in our economy, the topic on everyone’s mind is the same — what does our future hold? Over the past few weeks our team at BridgeYear has pondered this question.

As an organization devoted to connecting underserved youth to career pathways that grant economic stability and independence, how do we plan for a future with so many questions?

Student considering her postsecondary options at a BridgeYear Career Test Drive Fair.

Since March 13th our Career Test Drive Fairs have been postponed in line with state and local ordinances. However, our Advising program is continuing to serve students. BridgeYear’s Advising Program Manager — who provides high school seniors personalized support through text, email and video — has been in regular contact with students, helping them navigate a fast-changing postsecondary landscape.

Graduating seniors are facing a reality no one was prepared for: no graduation stage to walk across, no college or career day to explore next steps and no face time with the teachers and counselors who normally help students plan their futures.

According to a national survey, one in six graduating seniors “indicated that they either definitely or most likely will change their plans to attend a four-year institution as a full-time student” with the majority planning to either take a gap year or enroll part-time. Two in three students were also concerned “that they may not be able to attend their first-choice institution,” planning instead to attend a “less expensive, closer to home, and more familiar” option.

We expect these findings to be even more pronounced among low-income students. An overwhelming majority of the survey’s respondents had average household incomes of $88,000, over three times more than what many of our students’ families make.

Ninety two percent of BridgeYear’s school partners are Title 1 schools where many household incomes are under $25,750, meaning underserved students are now facing even tighter restrictions on their postsecondary plans.

This grim reality is further exacerbated by the racial inequities magnified by this crisis. The effects of unequal access to healthcare, unstable employment opportunities and unreliable internet connection all weigh heavily on students of color as they make decisions for their future.

More than ever, students from underserved communities need access to affordable, local opportunities to obtain economic stability.

As experts have studied in the past, postsecondary enrollment, especially at community colleges, usually spikes during a recession. Research also shows that the majority of jobs post-Great Recession went to individuals who upskilled and received at least some college education. Direct pathways to skilled trade careers will become even more essential in the years to come.

The post-coronavirus job market will be competitive and confusing, but it will also be a new frontier. Populations who historically bear the brunt of these crises must be strengthened and underserved students embarking on their postsecondary futures will need even more support. It is possible to come out of this stronger than before, but we — nonprofits, schools, employers, community programs — must band together to do it.

About BridgeYear

Our model is “student driven, yet employer informed.” We help students make informed decisions about in-demand careers that provide economic stability and future career advancement. Our programming is two-fold:

  • Our signature Career Test Drive Fairs engage students through hands-on career simulations and expose them to rewarding, sustainable professions requiring 2 years or less of postsecondary education and training.

BridgeYear is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to connect underserved youth to careers and educational pathways that provide economic stability and independence.

Co-Founders of BridgeYear