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Connect with the people and ideas reshaping higher education, written by Goldie Blumenstyk. Delivered on Wednesdays.

From: Goldie Blumenstyk

Subject: The Edge: What Higher Ed Needs to Know About the Radical Demographic Shift on the Horizon

I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Summertime 🎶 ... and The Edge is making some changes.

Welcome to the unofficial start of summer — and with it a temporary new format for this newsletter. Call it a post-vaccine reflection period, or a winding down from the frenzy-of-a-pandemic format. This week, and then every other week until fall, I’ll send an abridged version devoted to a few recommended readings.

It’ll be a chance for all of us (me included!) to stop, think, and catch up before the next academic year smacks us in the face. So here we go.

• Been hearing a lot lately about employers’ difficulty filling jobs right now? Just wait. Tracking mass retirements of baby boomers, low birth rates, and declining levels of labor-market participation among millennials and Gen Xers, experts at the economic-modeling firm Emsi have predicted a radical demographic shift that will ripple through higher ed, as well as the rest of the economy.

The Emsi report on this “sansdemic” (meaning without people, or in this case, without enough people) is called “The Demographic Drought.” The firm isn’t the first to document these phenomena, but its report is a helpful compendium and analysis of some key trends. Coupled with the latest findings from the U.S. Census Bureau on the nation’s slowing population growth (partly the result of a slowdown in immigration), the report makes for some useful reading for anyone thinking about where higher ed might be headed.

Short-term credentials are getting lots of attention these days, especially from higher-ed leaders who see them as potentially more appealing to college-wary students — and from politicians considering whether to extend Pell Grants and other student aid to more non-degree programs. New America’s recent report “The Short-Term Credentials Landscape” describes what several prior studies reveal about the value of these credentials, and what policy makers at all levels still need to understand about their related flaws and inequities.

Among the many points that caught my attention: the finding that “even if certificate programs are theoretically stackable, they are rarely stacked in practice.” That’s partly or largely attributable to colleges’ academic policies, the report says. And in many instances, researchers have found wide disparities by students’ gender, race, and ethnicity in various credentials’ economic payoffs.

• The “stranded credits” that, because of old debts, block former students from accessing their transcripts, remain a problem. I’ve reported before, thanks to work by Ithaka S+R, how some 6.6 million students were affected. Now, as the nonprofit consultancy continues to plug away at this issue, it has released “A State-by-State Snapshot of Stranded Credits Data and Policy,” which might offer some pathways out of this quagmire.

If you’ve heard me on the topic of obstacles returning students face, you know I’ve been beating this old-debt drum for a while now. What especially caught my eye here was that in states where average debt balances are relatively low, but many more students are affected, Ithaka S+R suggests that “debt-forgiveness programs may be a promising option.” And from what the folks there tell me, that’s exactly what they hope to do next: Run a pilot in a single state to test a model for such debt forgiveness. Stay tuned for more as that rolls out.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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The veteran reporter Goldie Blumenstyk writes a weekly newsletter, The Edge, about the people, ideas, and trends changing higher education. Find her on Twitter @GoldieStandard. She is also the author of the bestselling book American Higher Education in Crisis? What Everyone Needs to Know.