A greater emphasis on the acquisition of both “hard” and “soft” workplace skills and on career and technical education – also known as CTE – should be included in our national strategy for higher education, the Harvard Graduate School of Education argues in a report, Pathway to Prosperity, that was presented in Washington, D.C., in early February with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The secretary agreed heartily. “It is urgent that we turn to a CTE focus,” he told a packed audience of college administrators at the report’s launch on Feb. 2. That includes trilin-gual education, like Spanish and Chinese, Duncan suggested.
“The goal of postsecondary education today must not just be to earn a degree or certificate, but to get a job,” Duncan continued. “Getting a degree should not only require higher-level math skills like algebra 2, but also skills needed as a successful employee. All college students should learn to communicate at all levels, to do team-work problem solving and to master life skills such as prioritizing and organizing.”
This “path to prosperity” that prepares stu-dents for college and a career can’t be on two different tracks, Duncan said. “It must be a sin-gle track, a fast track for all. School reform needs to provide multiple pathways to postsec-ondary success and viable alternatives to a bach-elor’s degree.”
“The modern labor market has changed beyond recognition,” the Pathways to Prosperity Project, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points out. “While the total number of jobs in America in 2008 had grown by 6.4 mil-lion, those held by people with no postsecondary education had actually fallen by some two mil-lion. Labor market projections indicate that nearly two-thirds of all new job openings will be in “middle-skill occupations” in fields such as health care, for workers with an associate degree or occupational certificate.” By 2018, nearly two-thirds of all jobs in the U.S. will require some college-level education in these fields.
The definitive word in that statement is “some” college-level attainment. Postsecondary education for Duncan definitely includes two-year degree and short-term certificates, not just four-year and advanced degrees. In fact, the report found that “most jobs even in the second decade of the 21st century do not require a four-year degree.” Of the 47 million jobs expected to be created by 2018 (some 47 million), only a third will require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Surprisingly, this does not mean second-class wages, however. The report actually found that “27 percent of workers with postsecondary licenses or certificates/creden-tials short of an associate degree earned more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient.”
But American students need more flexibility. The “college (generally assumed to be offering a four-year degree) for all” movement must also be challenged – especially as that movement has led states to allow the admissions requirements of four-year colleges and universities to become the default curriculum for all high school stu-dents,” Robert Schwartz, academic dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education, is quot-ed as saying. “Unless we provide more choice in the last two years of high school and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will con-tinue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation.”
“The traditional single-track process (com-plete college first, then get a job) especially “does not work well for low-income and young people of color,” according to the report. “Many of these students are frustrated by an education they often find irrelevant and removed from the world of work.”
“This is exacerbated by weak or nonexistent career counseling, rising college costs, inade-quate financial aid and the frequent need to bal-ance careers with jobs,” Duncan said.
The nation’s employers need to be asked to play a greatly expanded role in supporting the multiple pathways to prosperity (education, training and job) system, the report concludes. “America is the only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help people transition from secondary school to careers and from adolescence to adulthood,” says Schwartz, who heads the Path to Prosperity project at Harvard. “Far bigger con-tributions from the nation’s employers and govern-ments are needed to provide more opportunities for work-based learning.”
The report details several examples of suc-cessful school system, community college and employer CTE programs that link challenging academic with focused tech curricula, through-out the country. They include “Project Lead the Way,” the “Career Academy Movement,” “High Schools that Work,” California’s LINKED Learning Initiative, Massachusetts’ regional tech ed programs, and a legislated comprehensive CTE system in Florida.
Perhaps the leading example of CTE corpo-rate/school system partnerships, however, were those described by the IBM Foundation’s presi-dent and VP for corporate citizenship and cor-porate affairs. According to Stanley S. Litow, IBM contributes $180 million through its Reinventing Education program for training and implemen-tation of new innovative technologies helping Americans and children and adults in some 170 countries to learn to read. In 1996, ’99 and ’01, Litow hosted National Education Summits for CEOs, state governors, business leaders and the president of the U.S. The former New York City deputy chancellor of schools (the nation’s largest school system) also helped create IBM’s Corporate Service Corp, which deploys hun-dreds of IBM’s top emerging leaders in commu-nity assignments in the developing world.
Asked if the company financed these projects for charity or for business, Litow answered “both.” The millions of dollars spent for the projects each year come out of the foundation’s resources as well as out of human resource funds. Litow claimed that IBM “was committed to developing the work force the nation needs, right here in the country itself.”