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Addressing the youth skills gap through university curricula: Evidence from a quasi-experimental evaluation in Rwanda

This report shares key findings regarding the gap between skills needed in the labor force and skills held by incoming youth.

Addressing the youth skills gap through university curricula: Evidence from a quasi-experimental evaluation in Rwanda - 1 MB

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Youth unemployment and underemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the highest in the world. One frequently cited culprit is the gap between the skills needed in the labor market and the skills that youth have when they enter the labor force. While a common approach to addressing this gap is standalone technical and vocational education training (TVET), we examine an alternative model in Kigali, Rwanda, that involved redesigning university curricula around skills valued in the local labor market. Students in the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)-Kepler program received a combination of in-person instruction and online coursework in skills perceived to be in demand by local Rwandan employers. We used a quasi-experimental design to match the first two cohorts of SNHU-Kepler students, before they started their program in 2013 and 2014, with similar students starting at local universities at the same time and tracked the two groups post-graduation, 5 to 6 years after baseline. To identify comparable matches, we simulated the SNHU-Kepler admissions process, and we filtered out comparison students who had heard of SNHU-Kepler to reduce selection bias.

We find that graduates of the SNHU-Kepler program performed 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 had better labor market outcomes, being twice as likely to be employed immediately after graduating, and securing jobs with higher salaries, longer hours, and written contracts. Comparison students appeared to eventually catch up to SNHU-Kepler students in terms of employment rates, but SNHU-Kepler students continued to earn twice as much and work 33% more hours as their matched peers several years post-graduation. While our study suggests that skills-based blended-learning university programs offers one potentially scalable model for bridging the skills gap among youth in sub-Saharan Africa, more research is needed to disentangle the relative contributions of curricular changes versus university career services.