Pay attention to Pathways to Prosperity!

by Hans Meeder

Last Wednesday, while most of the U.S. was paying attention to perplexing economic indicators, a dramatic power showdown in Egypt, and speculation about the Super Bowl match-up, a VERY important report was released in Washington, DC.  The new report, prepared by a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is called “Pathways to Prosperity, Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century.”

In essence, the report points out the hard reality that America’s education system, as it currently performs, is nowhere near effective enough in preparing young Americans for skilled, competitive careers, which mostly require some sort of education and training beyond high school.  The report purports that America’s obsession with “college for all” doesn’t really address the economic realities of our current job market, and it doesn’t sufficiently engage and inspire young people to stay in school and work hard toward a career-focused education and training.  Instead, America’s education system should lead young people to a variety of clearly defined “pathways” that link to meaningful career options.

This report is worth printing out and sharing with every open-minded educator, political and business leader you know, because it can serve as a valuable starting point for rich conversation about the future of education in the U.S.  If you watch Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s remarks at the event, you might notice that he characterized the report as calling for the reinvention of Career and Technical Education.  I found that really interesting as I think that’s a very narrow interpretation of the report.  The message of “Pathways” is calling for a bold reimagining of education that draws upon the strengths of CTE and career pathways, offering young people multiple pathways to careers, including baccalaureate, associate, certificate, and apprenticeship programs.  Yes, high quality, modern CTE is a prerequisite component of the broader system, but the report is not solely focused on CTE.

You can download the full report at the Harvard GSE site for Pathways to Prosperity.

And you can also view videos from the release of the report, hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum.

Below I’ve included some quotes from the report that particularly resonated with me.  In an upcoming blog, I’ll talk to the authors of the report and let you know how it is being received.

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“The message is clear: in 21st century America, education beyond high school is the passport to the American Dream.  But how much and what kind of post-secondary is really needed to prosper in the new American economy?

“More surprisingly, they (certificate-related jobs)  pay more than many of the jobs held by those with a bachelor’s degree.  In fact, 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates-credentials short of an associate’s degree-earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient.”

“What is most noteworthy about the President’s statement is the implicit recognition that if the U.S. is going to make dramatic progress in reclaiming its historic leadership position in post-secondary attainment, it is going to have to focus much more attention and resources on programs and pathways that do not require a bachelor’s degree but do prepare young people for the kind of middle-skill jobs outlined above.”

“Indeed, if current trends persist, the percentage of young adults with a post-secondary degree may actually drop, reversing a long history in which children have generally been better educated than their parents.”

“Given these dismal attainment numbers, a narrowly defined “college for all” goal-one that does not include a much stronger focus on career-oriented programs that lead to occupational credentials-seems doomed to fail.”

“…the paradox is that even through young people understand they need post-secondary education to make it in 21st century America, huge percentages continue to drop out of high school and college.”

“We fail these young people not because we are indifferent, but because we have focused too exclusively on a few narrow pathways to success.  It is time to widen our lens and to build a more finely articulated pathways system-one that is richly diversified to align with the needs and interest of today’s young people and better designed to meet the needs of the 21st century economy.”

“While these initiatives are encouraging, we clearly need a more comprehensive effort to develop a robust pathways system.  If high school career-focused pathways were firmly linked to community college and four-year college majors, for example, we believe more students would be likely to stay the course.  Indeed, we are convinced that this is an exceptionally promising strategy for increasing post-secondary attainment.”

“Our current system places far too much emphasis on a single pathway to success: attending and graduating from a four-year college after completing an academic program of study in high school.  Yet as we’ve seen, only 30 percent of young adults successfully complete this preferred pathway, despite decades of efforts to raise the numbers. “

“It is long past time that we broaden the range of high-quality pathways that we offer to our young people, beginning in high school.”

“Every high school graduate should find viable ways of pursuing both a career and a meaningful post-secondary degree or credential.  For too many of our youth, we have treated preparing for college versus preparing for career as mutually exclusive options.”

“Students who are bored and at risk of dropping out need to be engaged more effectively.  They need to know that there are navigable pathways leading to rewarding careers in the mainstream economy.  Our hope is that states will recognize the importance of providing such options and not make the mistake of mandating a narrow common college prep curriculum for all.”

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4 Comments on “Pay attention to Pathways to Prosperity!”

  1. Excellent, Hans! Thank you!

  2. Heather Snyder Says:

    Hans, thank you for sharing! This will also be an important report for the CTDSL’s in Pennsylvania to understand and use. Best wishes.

  3. Scott Shelar Says:

    Thanks, Hans. I am preparing for a meeting with our new State School Superintendent here in Georgia and this has some great information in it to help me prepare. You will like our new State School Superintendent, Dr. John Barge. He gets Career and Tech Ed – I would dare say – like no other State School Super in the country. The stars are aligning for a powerful Career and Tech Ed push here in Georgia. Stay tuned!

    • Good luck, Scott. Some of us have been using the term “convergence” to indicate a next generation of learning where career-relevant education gets closely connected with college-rigor academics — versus the older term of “integration.”

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