Nearly a year after Harvard University released a report promoting the advancement of more creative career pathways for young adults, six states have formed a coalition hoping to provide practical alternatives to the standard four-year undergraduate education.
The Pathways to Prosperity report, by Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, revealed that millions of students are being shortchanged in preparation for a successful career by a one-size-fits-all approach, which encourages everyone to earn a bachelor's degree.
Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee announced on June 19 they have formed a network to build alternative tracks for a successful career. Working closely alongside the Pathways to Prosperity project and Jobs for the Future, they hope to connect employers with teachers and policymakers. The coalition plans to put major emphasis on occupational instruction.
Researchers have noted that while many careers require higher education, just one-third of jobs created in coming years are predicted to demand a bachelor's degree or higher. Most stable jobs will only require an associate's degree or occupational permit.
"We're going to work in a more deliberate, concerted way than we have been on establishing career pathways," said Paul Reville, Massachusetts's secretary of education.
The coalition's goal is to ensure that young adults complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with currency in the labor market, and launch into a career, leaving open the prospect of further education.
Doctrinal students from Harvard and leaders from Jobs for the Future, an organization that connects students with employers, will visit each state in the network to look at current workforce needs and pinpoint postsecondary education gaps. Then, they will create a list of in-demand careers, paired with available training programs, for high school students aiming toward postsecondary credentials.
Robert Schwartz, co-author of the report and a leader of Pathways to Prosperity, believes the coalition comes at a time when more families are questioning the value of investing tens of thousands of dollars in higher education that burdens students with debt and doesn't always lead to a lucrative career.
However, some educators fear that leading students toward a career that doesn't require a four-year degree will limit them later in life. Gene Fant, professor of English and executive vice president at Union University, a Christian liberal arts college in Jackson, Tenn., believes that occupational or technical education will not encourage students to become engaged in the larger world.
"The practical parts of an occupational education are good for a job, but not for life," he said. "Students may by trained for something that may not exist in 10-15 years. Liberal arts rightly understood will prepare students for a lifetime of learning and lifetime of work, which is really an extension of our calling as believers."
But report authors and network contributors say that young people who choose an occupational permit or associate's degree will be even more equipped to pursue a bachelor's degree later.
Schwartz is excited about the network's potential and expects other states to join the coalition in the weeks and months ahead.
In a recent article featured on the Jobs for the Future website, Schwartz said he believed this model of postsecondary education may be the most promising strategy for preparing students to embark on a meaningful career.
"It is long past time that we broaden the range of high-quality pathways that we offer to our young people," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.