March 1, 2011
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After ten years of trying my best to articulate the changes that are needed in our nation’s educational system, I could not be more excited to read the excellent report (Pathways to Prosperity) that was just published by Bob Schwartz and Ron Ferguson, both of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I almost strained my neck nodding to their arguments as I read, wondering when this point of view will become more mainstream…which it will. Just you wait. The tectonic plates have shifted, and to deny the new reality of what our labor market needs (and how we can accommodate those needs) is to hurt our nation’s young adults and consign our country to a position of decreased competitiveness. Sound alarmist? It ain’t!
“Pathways” goes to the heart of the changes that are needed in our post-secondary educational system – to create more opportunities for young adults to gain the skills, experiences and support that they need to obtain livable wage jobs in the 21st century economy. The authors not only present a compelling set of facts, but they also look abroad to those places that don’t ascribe a lower societal value to vocational education. They also address the very real concerns that many have about introducing any battle cry other than “4 year college for all”.
It sounds like heresy, I know, that not everyone needs to get a 4 year college degree and maybe, just maybe, there is real value in occupational certificates, apprenticeships, work-based learning and career-linked associates degrees. Worse, critics will tell you that such efforts will lead us down a path of tracking students into those who are college material and those who are not. However, here’s the reality: In today’s labor market, everyone has to be college…or rather, post-secondary…material. There is no other option. But, we have to let go of the idea that there is one- and only one- acceptable, valuable, indeed honorable, concept of what college is. College is not a fixed idea, much as the traditional camps would love to think. Nor is our current view of college the right one for today’s economy and labor market. We have to shift our thinking to a broader view of post-secondary education. One which does not close options but expands them. One which does not track students, but enables many with an unprecedented level of access, opportunity and upward mobility.
Although for many years I have felt like that lone tree in the woods falling on deaf ears, it is heartening to see the well argued and presented words of our friends in Cambridge. Somehow I think more people will now be listening….