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Addressing the youth skills gap through skills-based university curricula / Evidence from a quasi-experimental evaluation of a blended learning program in Rwanda
Youth unemployment and underemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the highest in the world. One frequently cited culprit is the gap between skills needed in the labor market and those prevalent in youth entering the labor force. Most standalone technical and vocational training programs have yet to bridge this gap. With the rapid increase in tertiary enrollment in the region in recent years, an alternative approach to building skills among youth is focused on redesigning the university curriculum, which has traditionally prioritized memorization and rote learning, around skills-based training and easing search frictions as graduates transition to the labor market. We examine one such model designed and implemented by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Kepler in Kigali, Rwanda. SNHU-Kepler leverages blended learning models and relationships with local employers to redesign the curriculum around skills valued in the local labor market. We used a quasi-experimental design to match SNHU-Kepler students before they start their program with similar students starting at local universities at the same time and tracking the two groups post-graduation. We find that graduates of the SNHU-Kepler program perform better than their matched peers on skills prioritized by employers in the local labor market, including computer literacy, English language, and cognitive skills. SNHU-Kepler graduates in turn have better labor market outcomes, including being twice as likely to be employed immediately after graduating, and securing jobs with higher salaries, longer hours, and written contracts. Comparison students appear to eventually catch up to SNHU-Kepler students in terms of employment rates, but SNHU-Kepler students continue to earn twice as much and work 33% more hours as their matched peers several years post-graduation. While the skills-based blended-learning university program offers one potentially scalable model for bridging the skills gap among youth in subSaharan Africa, more research is needed to disentangle the relative contributions of the curricular changes versus university career services or other aspects specific to the SNHU-Kepler model on labor market outcomes.