A new report from Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity Project contends that our nation’s strategy for secondary education places too much emphasis on a single career pathway—graduating from a four-year college—while losing sight of the myriad well-paying, skilled careers that require something other than a four-year degree. “The ‘college for all’ rhetoric that has been so much a part of the current education reform movement needs to be significantly broadened to become a ‘post-high-school credential for all’,” the report says.
While 70 percent of high school graduates go on to college, only 56 percent of those who enroll attain a bachelor’s degree after six years, the report says. Even more disturbing is the large number of high school dropouts. President Obama highlighted the concern about the dropout rate in a 2009 speech:
Three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation.According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average high school graduate rate for OECD nations is 80 percent. In the United States, however, the average is 70 percent. Some 1.3 million students in U.S. public schools drop out each year. Why are so many students leaving school? The Pathways to Prosperity Project cites a key factor.
Too many can’t see a clear, transparent connection between their program of study and tangible opportunities in the labor market.In the same 2009 speech, President Obama emphasized the need for post-high school education, while making it clear that a four-year college isn’t the only way to go.
I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. …Dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.The Pathways to Prosperity Project believes that the solution to improving America’s education system lies in developing a broader vision that incorporates multiple potential career pathways—including those requiring training at two-year educational institutions or vocational schools—and an expanded role for employers in support these new pathways.
Some argue that turning away from the goal of college for all would mean that the United States is giving up its quest to regain a leadership position in educational achievement. However, that may depend on how one defines educational achievement. With millions of Americans out of work, and those with high school diplomas or less finding fewer jobs open to them than in the past, perhaps the dual goals of making individuals more employable and meeting the real needs of today’s marketplace should take priority.
Pursuing something other than a four-year degree after high school doesn’t mean settling for less. For example, the Pathways to Prosperity Project found that graduates of the best two-year schools often earn more than some of their counterparts who have four-year degrees.
Nor can college graduates meet all the needs of employers. In the nuclear industry, for example, public awareness of nuclear industry jobs is limited to engineering. However, the industry also needs people to fill skilled craft positions such as welders, technicians, operators and security professions, as well as degreed engineers.
The nuclear industry expects to replace as many as 38 percent of all workers by 2014 as a result of retirements and other attrition. Existing nuclear power plants and new plants under development will require a skilled work force. President Obama’s call for greater use of clean energy sources during his Jan. 25 State of the Union Address will help support the growth of jobs throughout the energy sector.
Tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all, and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.The nuclear industry is so concerned about the availability of technicians and skilled craft workers that it has developed a program to partner selected two-year educational institutions with companies in the nuclear industry to prepare young people for jobs as maintenance technicians, chemistry technicians, radiation protection technicians and non-licensed operators.
Part of the project involved developing a nationally recognized uniform curriculum guide that specifies the learning objectives required in each of these fields. Industry partners work with two-year educational institutions to choose one or more specialties, rather than trying to teach all of them. Graduates will be ready to enter nuclear industry jobs with little need for additional training, other than site-specific matters. The industry is working to align the number of graduates these programs turn out and the jobs available to them when they complete their training.
The nuclear power plant uniform curriculum program is part of a broader electric power industry effort to develop the work force of the future, coordinated through the Center for Energy Workforce Development. In addition, the Get Into Energy website provides information for those interested in careers in the energy industry.