The following was originally published by Newswise.

ESSEX, N.Y. — Aftershocks of the 2020 pandemic continue to reshape higher education, and professionals at a global organization’s planning retreat last week said that new strategies are needed to keep up with those changes and prepare students for education and the workplace.

“Higher education needs to respond to trends affecting our young people. We are seeing more change today than at any time in the 32-year history of our organization,” said Rick Dalton, president of CFES Brilliant Pathways, which hosted the retreat. “Keeping up requires a steep learning curve.”

Among the troubling trends is a sharp decrease in the number of young men choosing to attend college, particularly among Black and Latino populations. Nationally, male college enrollment levels have dipped to 42%, for multiple reasons.

Interest in higher education is waning, and at the retreat, University of Wyoming Professor Alan Buss said the spotlight on famous college dropouts who have hit it big in technology has convinced some young people that college is not essential. “There are some very successful people out there without a degree, so they become a beacon,” Buss said. Mixed political messages superheated by the pandemic and wage hikes for unskilled work have also led to confusion and a temptation to get a job and start making money directly out of high school, Buss said.

This makes it critical to build networks for students and to connect them with sources of accurate information, through mentors, people with real-world experience and face-to-face interactions with College and Career Readiness advisors, all of which CFES Brilliant Pathways facilitates. In its Young Men of Talent program, for example, underserved young men participate in workplace development clusters, access paid summer internships in career areas and receive personal attention during meals with the University of Vermont president and provost.

Dalton also noted that there is now more emphasis on entrepreneurialism, with two-thirds of teenagers saying they would like to own their own business. “They want to be entrepreneurs, but they need help understanding how,” he said.

In response, the University of Vermont, in a program designed by CFES Brilliant Pathways, is sponsoring the Vermont Pitch Challenge where teams of one to three high school students present ideas for economic or social development. Participants compete for cash prizes and also receive advice from experts on how to write business plans and make their ideas operational.

More information about the Vermont Pitch Challenge is available at

CFES Brilliant Pathways partners with schools in 18 states and Ireland to provide college and career readiness support to students in rural and urban schools in underserved communities. More information is at