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John Bridgeland

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Enterprising Pathways to the Middle Class

Posted: 09/19/2012 12:08 pm

A new report released this week found that 29 million jobs in the United States -- nearly half of all jobs that pay middle class wages -- now require more than a high school diploma but less than a Bachelor's degree.  And by 2018, nearly 63 percent of America's jobs will require a postsecondary certificate or degree. 

But for too many of America's workers - including many of our young people - the rungs on the ladder to these middle class jobs are broken.  Every year, more than one million young people do not graduate from high school on time and 6.7 million youth ages 16 to 24 are out of school and out of work.  This is not just a tragedy for these young people and their families; it costs taxpayers $93 billion annually in lost revenue from a lack of productive workers and increased social services.

Despite these challenges, America has an opportunity to restore the path to the American Dream and strengthen our country's economic competiveness by creating new enterprising pathways for students.  That's why Opportunity Nation, a broad coalition of more than 250 member organizations, is re-envisioning career and technical education, which sits at the crossroads of our nation's education and workforce systems. 

Through high-quality programs, students gain academic and technical skills that can prepare them for today's workforce.  Examples of innovation around the country show that progress is possible.  At Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in New York City, a partnership among IBM, City University of New York, and Mayor Bloomberg, students grades 9-14 will graduate with their high school diploma, an associates degree in applied science, and good prospects for a job at IBM. Through Jobs for the Futures' Accelerating Opportunity program, students who did not complete high school are reconnecting to school, gaining skills, and earning a postsecondary degree or certificate that will help them find a good quality job.

While these models show that great work is happening, we must do more.  In order to ensure that all workers have the skills they need and employers demand, we must accelerate career and technical education around the country.  We must reform our education and workforce systems, including through the Carl D. Perkins Carer and Technical Education Act, to link secondary and postsecondary institutions with employers to respond to regional and state labor markets, to actively engage employers in curriculum development and teacher training, and to provide more students and families with data on what certificates and degrees lead to good quality jobs.

Well-designed career and technical education programs -- what we call "enterprising pathways" -- have multiple benefits.  They keep more students on track to graduate from high school and college because students see the relevance of education to their career dreams; they lower the costs of college by accelerating the time it takes to get a post-secondary credential with value in the labor market; and they reduce training and remediation costs for employers that have helped secondary and post-secondary institutions on curriculum and skills development.  

At this week's Opportunity Nation Summit, we will continue the call to restore the ladder of opportunity and strengthen career and technical education in America.  This will require action from policymakers, business and nonprofit leaders, community organizations, and individuals around the country.  Together, we can ensure that more of America's workers have the education and skills they need to realize the American Dream.

John Bridgeland is CEO of Civic Enterprises and former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Tess Mason-Elder is a policy analyst at Civic Enterprises. The reports, Career and Technical Education: Five Ways that Pay Along the Way to the B.A., and Enterprising Pathways: Toward a National Plan of Action for Career and Technical Education, can be found at www.civicenterprises.net.

 

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