The Need to Expand Our Career Pathways
For the last decade, about a third of Americans have completed a college degree, and that has worked fairly well, but the world is changing — fast. In the next decade, the economy will require roughly double that number of college graduates. I know some will say that “college isn’t for everybody,” and I would agree. However, I’d argue that a high school degree alone is no longer sufficient to getting a job that will lead to a livable wage.
The good news is that the range of opportunities after high school are more diverse than they have ever been. Good jobs are available through apprenticeships, one year certificate programs, and two-year associates degrees. The bad news is that the choices aren’t always easy, and the wrong choice can come with real costs. Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article discussing the economic benefits of two- and four-year post-secondary degrees. While the findings reinforce the importance of these degree programs, a challenging labor market and high tuition rates have created an environment in which these degrees no longer guarantee a path to the middle class. In some cases, when students are not well-counseled or lack sufficient information about college planning, students can even find themselves graduating college with few job-specific skills and large amounts of debt. The job market is changing, and we must change with it.
Far too many young people — even those bound for college — leave high school lacking skills required for good jobs and advanced learning. In fact, more than 50% of Americans reach their mid-twenties without the skills and labor market credentials essential for success in today’s economy. At the same time, there are millions of jobs in high demand in IT, advanced manufacturing, and health care related fields. Unfortunately, at this time, there is not enough local talent to fill them. This is an issue nationwide and in our own state.
As a state, we have an opportunity to marry the needs of growing industries with the next generation of Delawareans. It is important that we come together to understand and support the college and career readiness efforts that will prepare the next generation of Delawareans for a lifetime of success. Today, there are great programs supporting this effort in all of Delaware’s high schools, including vocational and career-technical education (CTE) programs, dual enrollment opportunities, and AP and IB course offerings. Governor Markell has worked with Delaware businesses to create the Accelerated Career Paths program, which will allow students to graduate with a high school diploma, advanced manufacturing certificates, and college credits. These initiatives and others are creating great opportunities for many students, yet we need to ensure there are real, meaningful opportunities for every Delaware student.
As our education system continues to evolve, it is important that we give our students an opportunity to explore career options while in high school – and even earlier. This does not mean that we must adopt a model where students choose a career track in 9th grade; however, it does mean that we allow students to explore their strengths and passions so they feel more prepared to choose a career path after graduation. Businesses across Delaware are coming together around the SPaRC (Success Plans and Roads to Careers) initiative to provide students with information about the fields they may be interested in, and connects students with career professionals to learn more. Once implemented, this work will help encourage students to apply academic concepts to real-life problems.
The bottom line is that when we talk about college and career readiness, there are many pathways available to students and, as a state, we must come together to understand the needs of our workforce in order to set our students up for success. Moving forward, we must build on what’s working and expand our work in this area to make sure that our school’s programs highlight the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully pursue these highly demanded fields.
One opportunity for Delawareans to contribute and build on this work is through the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s effort to engage Delawareans in developing a plan to better prepare students for a lifetime of success. I am a member of the Coalition’s Leadership Team, and I encourage everyone to lend a voice to this effort. You can get involved by attending community conversations (two next week in New Castle County); sharing your opinions online on a virtual community conversation website (ED25.MindMixer.com), Facebook, and Twitter; and helping to spread word about this opportunity to your friends, family, and colleagues.