Week 8: Is there more than one pathway to prosperity?
My colleagues and I at the Harvard Graduate School of Education prepared Pathways to Prosperity in which we reported that in the near future there will be millions of jobs available for people with an associate's degree or occupational certificate. Many of these will be in "middle-skill" occupations such as electrician, and construction manager, dental hygienist, paralegal and police officer. While these jobs may not be as prestigious as those filled by B.A. holders, they pay a significant premium over many jobs open to those with just a high school degree. More surprisingly, some pay more than many of the jobs held by those with a bachelor's degree. In fact, 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates--credentials short of an associate's degree--earn more than the average bachelor's degree recipient.
We also reported that nearly 70 percent of high school graduates now go to college within two years of graduating. But only about 4 in 10 Americans have obtained either an associate's or bachelor's degree by their mid-twenties. The list of causes is long and varied, including: under-preparation for the required academic work; financial pressures; competing claims of family and jobs.
Taking these findings into consideration, here are my questions for you [feel free to draw on what you’ve been thinking about in earlier dialogues as well]:
- Many folks seeking to reform K-12 education advocate that we must prepare all students for four-year college. What if, instead of "college for all", we encouraged "post high-school credential for all" [which includes, but is not limited to, college]?
- What is your experience of this in school? For example, is the message that college is the only path? Or is there an acknowledgement somewhere of broader means of achievement (community college, technical education, or something else)? Is it possible that we have focused too narrowly on pathways to success?
- Our research also found that most high school students receive very little career counseling. Is this the case in your school? How do you feel about this? Does it make it more difficult for you to figure out what you want to do after high school? Would you welcome an opportunity to talk with adults working in fields in which you are interested about career options -- and what you would need to do to get a job in these fields?
I don't have a very good perspective on this topic becuase I am in eighth grade, but from the high schools I have visited, it seems like they encourage the college path and not much else. For example in many of the brochures and stuff I see from the school I will be going to next year, they boast about how '97% of students go on to a four-year college' and say nothing of other post high-school credentials. I think that right now, most people view a college education as the only way to be truly successful in their life, and many of them do not know anything about the other roads they could take. I certainly didn't know much about them until reading Bill's question, and I know I am not alone.
I think the message that "college is the only path" is often an accepted statement at my school, where if you don't attend a four year college it's strange to say the least. While I think encouraging other types of schooling would be more beneficial in schools where the students are more likely to go into blue collar jobs, a four year degree should also be encouraged for all students who wish to pursue it. Career counseling is probably the best happy medium, where students, depending on their abilities, desires, and financial standings could see whether pursuing a four year degree or technical degree would be better for them. My school has something called "Mentor Connection" where students who are accepted into the program can intern with professionals in the field of their choice. That way, they can experience what that job/field is like, and talk directly with those who are in it about expectations, credentials, education, etc. And while that program is not open to all students, I think it's a good start.
My school (Jefferson County Open School) is essentially a district-operated magnet school for those who have struggled in the traditional system in the past, so attitudes about life after high school are a bit different:
Everyone is encouraged to pursue some sort of post-secondary education, but this is rarely assumed to be a four-year college. A handful of our students do go directly to four-year colleges each year, and for those who want to do so, there is an unofficial "college week" every October wherein representatives from various colleges (almost all of them from the Colleges That Change Lives consortium) come to campus to give information sessions. Many of our upperclassmen attend all of these meetings as a matter of principle--In fact, I first learned of the college where I would ultimately decide to enroll from these visits--but these being private liberal arts colleges, they are not always within the interests or means of students. A majority of graduates instead go on to state universities and community colleges, and those who have also completed programs at the nearby technical school often obtain certification in and enter their fields of study.
We don't have anyone on staff whose whose job title is career counselor, but it is impossible to graduate from my high school without receiving indirect, self-guided career counseling. In order to graduate, each student must complete six long-term projects of his own design, each one built around a broad theme. (We call these Passages.) The theme of one of these Passages is Career Exploration, and its required components are some sort of practical, "hands-on" experience (e,g. apprenticeships, shadowing) in the student's chosen field and an interview with someone holding a job in that field, investigation of the necessary training or education to obtain such a job, and exploration of related fields. I don't think this quite takes the place of career counseling, however, because this process by its very design is narrow and presumes that the student already has a potential career in mind to explore. I also found myself wishing the school had more contact with people who might be able to answer questions for this Passage--as it stands, the student is left on his own to find such people.
As a society, I think we are already beginning to grasp the idea that a bachelor’s degree is neither a golden ticket to success and prosperity (or even to employment, quite frankly) nor the right goal for everyone. The economic climate of the last few years and the increasingly absurd admissions figures at the “name” colleges (To single out the most notorious example, I would not be entirely surprised if, a generation from now, a quarter of a million students applied to Harvard each year and two were accepted,) and overcrowding at cash-strapped state universities seem to have forced people to reconsider the college-for-all mindset. I’ve read a number of op-eds by political pundits contending that there exists a higher education bubble analogous to the recent housing bubble, and by beleaguered college professors bemoaning their wholly unprepared students. I think in this respect our culture is on the verge of change, if for no other reason than it appears almost physically impossible to provide each of our nation’s young people with a traditional college education.
If "post high-school credential" was advocated, I believe this would increase the chances of students getting on their career path immediately after high school. At my high school, we have a large pecentage of students that attend the local community college before attending a university. This is widely publicized. Students are even offered to begin taking middle college classes their senior year. I believe there are some negative stereotypes about middle college, many people thinking that who ever goes to middle college is incapable of facing the reality of a university. However, the reason for a student attending community college may be because money is an issue, or other personal issues. In my school, career counseling is nonexistant without request. I am terribly distrubed by this!! Our counseling staff's main objective is to work on the students schedules. This makes things increasingly difficult as I am approaching my senior year in high school, without a solid idea on my career path. I would love to experience takling with adults working in a specific field that may interest me. This could increase my likelihood of actually pursuing that career and solidify my path in college.
I think that college can be the only path way. In my school they work everybody really hard so they can go to college and have a great future. In there language arts classes. I think we have. . focused too much on narrowly on the pathways to success. Because lots of people say success is good and it is but not all the time. Well at me school we got 6th grade to 10 grade so really its not high school each year they will add 11th grade then the next year after that 12th grade and i havent seen much career counseling beacuse my school isnt a high school yet. By the way its a charter school too. Wait if i think about the next question they are sorry. An speaking about careers this week for the 9th grade we needed to think of a job we wanted and write about it and its very good because its making the students think, well its makihng me think because i am thinking about what i want to do after high school and thats a really good thing. I think its a very good idea and opportunity to talk to someone about the field i would like, because they give you more info about what they do and if you like it you go for it and if you see that its something that you were not looking for to then you can look for something else. So i say yes its a great opportunity. Also in my school they tell you to think of a college that you would want to go to and then they tell you to look it up and see what you have to have to get in it. Its a very good idea because it helps the teens think about what college they want to go and what they need.
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