ED. Magazine

Report Calls for National Effort to Get Millions Of Young Americans onto a Realistic Path to Employability


WASHINGTON (February 2, 2011) – Despite decades of efforts to reform education, and billions of dollars of expenditures, the harsh reality is that America is still failing to prepare millions of its young people to lead successful lives as adults. Evidence of this failure is everywhere: in the dropout epidemic that plagues our high schools and colleges; in the harsh fact that just 30 percent of our young adults earn a bachelor’s degree by age 27; and in teen and young adult employment rates not seen since the Great Depression.

Today, the Project, which is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is releasing a major new report that examines the reasons for our failure to prepare so many young adults, and advances an exciting vision for how the United States might regain the leadership in educational attainment it held for over a century. Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century contends that our national strategy for education and youth development has been too narrowly focused on an academic, classroom-based approach. It is now clear that this strategy has produced only incremental gains in achievement and attainment, even as many other nations are leapfrogging the United States. In response, the report advocates development of a comprehensive pathways network to serve youth in high school and beyond.

This pathways system would be based on three essential elements. The first is the development of a broader vision of school reform that embraces multiple pathways to help young people successfully navigate the journey from adolescence to adulthood. The report contends that at present, we place far too much emphasis on a single pathway to success: attending and graduating from a four-year college. Yet only 30 percent of young adults successfully complete this preferred pathway. Meanwhile, even in the second decade of the 21st century, most jobs do not require a bachelor’s. The report notes that while the United States is expected to create 47 million jobs in the 10-year period ending in 2018, only a third of these jobs will require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Almost as many jobs – some 30 percent – will only require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary occupational credential. Given these realities, the report argues we need to broaden the range of high-quality pathways that we offer young adults. This would include far more emphasis on career counseling and high-quality career education, as well as apprenticeship programs and community colleges as viable routes to well-paying jobs.

Second, the report argues that we need to ask our nation’s employers to play a greatly expanded role in supporting the pathways system, and in providing more opportunities for young adults to participate in work-based learning and actual jobs related to their programs of study. Third, the report contends that we need to develop a new social compact between society and our young people. The compact’s central goal would be that by the time they reach their mid-20s, every young adult will be equipped with the education and experience he or she needs to lead a successful life as an adult. Achieving this goal would require far bigger contributions from the nation’s employers and governments.

“We are the only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help young people transition from secondary school to careers, and from adolescence to adulthood,” says Robert Schwartz, academic dean and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who heads the Pathways to Prosperity Project. As the first president of Achieve, Schwartz has been a key supporter of the need to raise expectations and academic standards for all young people. But in recent years, Schwartz has become increasingly concerned about the “college for all” movement, 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 students. “Unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and 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 continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation,” he says.

“People don’t realize how far behind other nations we have fallen. Some of the international comparisons in the report will truly shock people who assume that we lead the world in education and youth development,” adds Pathways co-chair Ronald Ferguson, a senior lecturer in education and public policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Kennedy School, and director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. “Crafting a 21st century system that takes lessons from abroad but is tailored to the particulars of our own unique society will require our best effort. It can’t be a superficial process and still succeed on the scale that we need it to.”

The report notes that even as many young adults are failing to earn a post-secondary degree, they have also been hit far harder than older adults by unemployment in the Great Recession. Indeed, the percentage of teens and young adults who have jobs is now at its lowest level since the end of World War II. This has dire implications, because employment in the teen and young adult years can have such a positive impact on future prospects for employment and earnings.

The report was developed over two years of effort that included both and working closely with partners interested the pathways challenge. An unusually wide range of organizations were involved in the project, including major corporations, leaders from K-12 and higher education, the non-profit community, and government. The project has also been involved in “on the ground” work in several different regions where it has collaborated with people and organizations eager to develop solutions to the challenge. So far, the Project has worked with partners in Silicon Valley, Illinois and Boston, as well as with leaders interested in developing more effective pathways to careers in health care.

Funding for the Pathways Project reflected this broad base of support. To date, the Project has been supported by four corporate foundations, as well as three non-profit foundations. Corporate support has come from Accenture, the DeVry Foundation, The General Electric Foundation, and the Pearson Foundation. Additional support was provided by the James Irvine Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Since its founding in 1920, the Harvard Graduate School of Education has been training leaders to transform education in the United States and around the globe. Through its 13 master’s programs, two doctoral programs, professional education institutes, and research projects, the Harvard Graduate School of Education prepares leaders in education and generates knowledge to improve student opportunity, achievement, and success.

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  • Jon Butzon

    “Despite decades of efforts to reform education, and billions of dollars of expenditures, the harsh reality is that America is still failing to prepare millions of its young people to lead successful lives as adults.”
    OK. The rest of the industrialized nations are educating their students to an ever-higher standard. They are beating us on international academic measures (TIMMS PISA). China’s economy will eclipse ours as soon as 2020. AND your recommendation is to set a lower, cheaper standard for educating our youth? This says more about how the eduction “profession” sees itself (ineffective and unable to improve) than it does about sound educational strategy. I guess if we are bound and determined to leave some children behind, we might as well make it official.
    “Evidence of this failure is everywhere: in the dropout epidemic that plagues our high schools and colleges; in the harsh fact that just 30 percent of our young adults earn a bachelor’s degree by age 27; and in teen and young adult employment rates not seen since the Great Depression.”
    Thirty percent. Is that how many students earn a bachelor’s degree at Harvard? Naw, I didn’t think so. Maybe besides the overhaul of K-12 education we need to do some work on “higher” education as well.

  • Fred Jones

    I think Harvard is very prudent in releasing this study, now, as a means of letting some of the air out of the growing higher education bubble (which I believe is about to burst, along the same lines as the recent housing market implosion). College tuition debt is now higher in America than credit card debt. How many of those loan-laden graduates are finding bona fide careers and good paying jobs with their decontextualized, theoritically-based degrees? As more students, parents and employers begin considering the Return on Investment for such 4-year degrees, this growing bubble gets closer to bursting wide open. Hopefully this report will remove some of the “hot air” that our dominant culture has pumped into the “one way to win” approach to public education before the entire market for liberal arts degrees implodes (along with its taxpayer subsidized loans and grants). We definitely need to provide younth many alternative pathways to success in life and careers, whether a student’s aspirations must go through a 4-year college or not.

  • Belinda McCharen

    This is a critical report that should reinvigorate our conversation about the purpose of education and the role of career development.
    In the current atmosphere of high stakes testing, administrators are utilizing school counselors as test counters and monitors. In many states it is reducing counselor contact with students by as much as six weeks.
    We need a massive engagement by industry to demand that students have realistic career plans and opportunities for real-world application of knowledge. Access to quality guidance and advisement and career and technical education can provide such a link between high school, the world or work and post secondary skill certificates and degrees.

  • Peter Hadjis

    Can someone please post a direct link to the report? Everyone nowadays has an opinion on the topic of research done without really looking at the research but relying on a press release as the starting point to express opinions. I feel sorry for wasting research money on this stuff….
    On a second thought, there are two press releases, the second DOES have a link to the report?! Here is the other link:
    and in case that goes away:
    It is too bad most media picked up the one without the link…

  • Dale Gruis

    I realize that some neuroscientists dismiss the validity of learning modalities, but as a former high school teacher I believe that understanding the learning modalities to differentiate teaching to learn is important. Too many educators see their role as lecturers of facts. Project-based learning seems to enhance critical thinking.
    As I think of former students, there definitely were students who performed much better in a Tactile/Kinesthetic learning atmosphere. I remember students who were “motor-heads” that were always dreaming of ways they could improve performance of an engine and/or transmission. For example: Many of the so-called ‘motor-heads’ needed a real-world reason to see the importance of learning academics such as math.
    I suspect the one-room school houses of 100 years ago were heavy in contextual learning. Unfortunately, contextual learning has often been scrapped in an effort to get 100% of students to a 4-year college through lecture and note taking which are obviously much quicker. I applaud Harvard’s report which shoots a few holes in the popular Auditory Perception Modality of lecture and take notes.

  • Peg Allen

    Ohio has a great system for helping young people assess their skills, and keep track of their career interests as they progress through school. The Kuder Assessment is online and keeps an online portfolio for each student.

  • Rodney

    The education system has truly only served itself for years so we are happy for this “duh” eye opening excercise at harvard. unfortunately the “educated” have always been “educated” by themselves so we have a perfect, text book case of the blind leading the blind.

  • Paul Misarti

    We all agree that the purpose of education is occupation. If we seek to produce a society of individuals that strive to maximize their individual potential, then we have to develop methodologies to help students, from elementary school through college, to use their natural instinctive abilities to identify their talents and interests.
    Intuitive parents recognize at the earliest ages what mostly interests their children. Conventional education also is good at exposing young children to standard categories of learning, which exposes fundamental interests in most children. The difficulty and challenge for parents and educators is to expose the ever expanding and deepening universe of opportunities to students, as they grow into teenagers and young adults.
    Perhaps the question we should be asking our kids is not, “What would you like to be?” but “What do you like to do”. We need to inspire kids to trust that there will be a successful career or occupational opportunity for any interest they may have. Our job is to help them recognize their one, or few, strongest interests and to nurture those interests and introduce new variations of those interests as they grow. Though, we must be careful that it is their interests we are nurturing and not ours. Our role is to continually present an evolving and escalating array of experiences, all growing from their core interests. This will teach them to understand that they will have a successful future doing something for which they will have enthusiasm and passion for life. Kids who like to play with video games can learn that there are hundreds of career choices involving gaming design, graphics and computer engineering. Those who love to play sports can learn that there are hundreds of career choices involving sports. The analogies are endless.
    What educational institutions have to do is to begin mapping kids interests to occupations from the earliest ages. Students should be tested for their interests every year, and the evolution of those test results can be used by educators to develop individually tailored projects for students. These projects will give them exposure and experience to help them progress within their primary interest category, or indicate the need to adjust the map as their essential interests change or wane. It is imperative that these projects not be graded, but used as helpful tools for educators, parents and students.
    Educational institutions cannot possibly provide curricula tailored to the many thousands of possible career choices available, but they can illuminate the paths that their principal categories of curriculum can lead to. It would then be easy for students, with the help of educators to research the specific occupations within those categories, and then guide students into choosing core curriculum that will prepare them for their specific interests.
    Hopefully, the above does not sound totally abstract. Here’s a real example that I know about. A young girl became fascinated with beauty and cosmetics at a very young age. Her playful interests were graciously nurtured. She was given any beauty and fashion magazines and toys she wanted. As a teenager she developed a persistent case of acne, and as a result of all the medical and cosmetic knowledge she had acquired, she chose to pursue a career in cosmetics and beauty products. Her parents helped her to choose a university with relevant curricula, and she has excelled with a passion and enthusiasm that is inspirational to witness. During her college years she has led entrepreneurial projects in product development, merchandising and marketing. Her faculty mentors refer to her as a star. Now, in her senior year, she has as burning passion to make her name in the beauty industry. There is no doubt she has found the career path that she was born to pursue. She is my daughter.

  • admin

    The report captures what many of us involved in sponsored formal apprenticeship programs and public education have been saying for years. Maybe now, some K-12 School Superintendents will begin to listen.
    Michael J. McNelly
    Former President of the Anne Arundel County Maryland Board of Education and Current Member of Maryland’s Apprenticeship and Training Council

  • Ed Madden

    I am one of eight Regional Apprenticeship Consultants for the State of Washington Apprenticeship Approval Agency, the Department of Labor and Industries and am writing for myself. I’ve been directly involved with Registered Apprenticeship a total of 32 years with military, federal, and state agencies as an apprentice, technical assistance and compliance officer. We assist employers develop and register the programs that they sponsor and operate to train their employees to meet industry standards for occupational qualifications.
    The 1937 National Apprenticeship Act of Congress directs the Secretary of Labor “to cooperate with the Secretary of Education” http://www.doleta.gov/oa/fitzact_code.cfm I have not seen that cooperation and it is one reason why the college track is so prevalent.
    In my current position for the past 15 years, efforts to develop new Registered Apprenticeships for “work based learning” by working in conjunction with both the education and workforce development system is frequently rebuffed. I offer three examples:
    1. TechPrep at high schools and community colleges – Comments have included:
    “We don’t care if they (students) get jobs; we need to get them certificates and diplomas.”
    “Girls don’t want to do that kind of work”.
    “You may not give a presentation to our employers on the CTE advisory committees, that is not why they are with us.”
    2. The entities of the Workforce Investment Act say, “Organized labor runs apprenticeship, they are at the table and they don’t want to expand apprenticeship.”
    3. Twice, while discussing sponsoring an apprenticeship, the Staff Development Director of a large hospital and the regional president of a national community based organization who also owns a catering business had the same answer “Why should I hire, pay and train someone when the college provides free interns?”
    MYTHS that are becoming reality;
    Education means College,
    Apprenticeship means Building Trades Organized Labor,
    Internships are becoming the new entry-level job.
    FACTS misconstrued to maintain the status quo;
    Education is learning,
    Labor is work done by individuals,
    Apprenticeship is a method of postsecondary education. Employers recruit, select, hire, and pay an employee to learn a specific occupation. About 93% of the learning occurs at work and 7% in a classroom. Employers in any industry can sponsor a Registered Apprenticeship.
    We need to increase privately funded jobs with training and reduce publicly funded job training without a job. This can be done through the national system of Registered Apprenticeship. Who knows better than employers and occupationally qualified employees what it takes to be qualified? What better grade and motivation is there than a paycheck increasing based on abilities?
    I hope your study raises awareness since it specifically points out, “We also need to greatly expand programs in which most learning occurs on the job, especially apprenticeships. “Unfortunately, there are many sacred cows that maintain the status quo.
    Good work!

  • MaryAlice Bates

    As one who has taught physical skill as well as the intellectual foundations to young students, I find the absense of the teaching of HOW to learn to be a large factor in our current problems. As a kindergarten teacher we explored our senses first and how to identify what we saw, heard, smelled, tasted or felt and learned words to describe and report it. From there we went to processes which we observed and how they developed. It was only in the post grad level of gifted ed classes that the best resources were identified so that other ways of learning were presented as valuable. I can credit my hs frosh science with learning the scientific method – but my own sons did not have that instruction in hs! I further fault schools with a sincere dread of the creative student, apparently fearing disruption from the products of that creativity.
    At this time I would recommend taking another look at both the length of school day and school year, the content of curriculum with emphasis on the brain developing activities of the arts and the oxygen circulating power of physical movement in increasing the achievement levels of all students. The proliferation of tutoring services is certainly built upon a disregarding of learning style differences as well as adequate instruction in the How that I recommend.
    And may I direct all to re-read the human growth and development texts in use today: particularly the section on the frontal brain: the control center and of the ages at which it develops to high usability. Too much of the instruction we saw our sons being given being aimed at that area as being mature at 13 rather than 25. Which leads me back to the HOW to learn and its place on both intellectual and psychomotor taxonomies. But I expect many reading this diatribe will wonder what foreign language I am accessing. Education should not be the simple idea of “read, write and regurgitate.” Yet this is what our many testing practices are measuring. “When will we ever learn?”

  • George Huang

    One must also emphasize the problem of skewed incentives. In California, schools are paid by ADA/student #s, and so when the cuts have to be made, the most costly programs get cut first. CTE costs a lot more than humanities courses, and so naturally they get cut. And since a community college’s reputation and evaluation is based mainly on transfer rates, they would naturally emphasize academic courses over CTEs.

  • Frances Kelly

    I agree totally with the first two respondents. What is so difficult to understand. I am pleased with the Harvard report. It might serve to increase attention to the issue that we are not doing enough in this country to identify and engage people into occupations that lead to a decent quality of life. The European Union is way ahead of us on this and has developed a strong organization to deal with it. Google European Union, training….I think it is cedertop.

  • Guest

    Regarding the following quote. Don’t you see that by trying to educate the bottom of the cohort, you’re actually dragging down your averages and (probably) not adequately challenging your most capable students? Does access for all, in fact, drag everyone to mediocrity?
    The high growth of the for-profit, natioanally-accredited colleges clearly illustrates that the market is demanding more hands-on, vocational training, which they are more than willing to provide.
    Quote: The rest of the industrialized nations are educating their students to an ever-higher standard. They are beating us on international academic measures (TIMMS PISA). China’s economy will eclipse ours as soon as 2020. AND your recommendation is to set a lower, cheaper standard for educating our youth? This says more about how the eduction “profession” sees itself (ineffective and unable to improve) than it does about sound educational strategy. I guess if we are bound and determined to leave some children behind, we might as well make it official.

  • James Wilson, Ed.D.

    This study is needed in a time when the Gates people are talking about preparing 80 percent of high school students for college. The study doesn’t speak strongly about how we are dropping out as manyfrom high schol as we are graduating from college. We must engage young people to keep them in high school or suffer the consequences. Seventy percent of those in prison are high school dropouts.
    Career academies graduate 90 percent of their students, all with an employable skill and just as many go on to college. This reform of the traditional high school has the power to change America by putting our youth to work. Please read my book, Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration available on Amazon for an overview of career academies. This report is late and after my book, but significant in that it is Harvard after all.

  • Janet Wall

    It is critically important that all young people, and even experienced workers, get the guidance necessary to develop career plans that involve their abilities, skills, interests, and values. Those traits need to be matched against occupational requirements to find compatible career areas. Those careers will differ widely in their educational requirements. Some will require a high school degree, a license, a certification, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s, or more. We talk about this sensible approach, matching people characteristics to careers, but have difficulty implementing it much beyond wishful thinking.
    The report shows that there is roughly a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ( hs, postsecondary or aa, or bachelor’s or more) split in the level of education requirements of jobs in 2018, so why the emphasis on everyone getting a college degree? Yes, on average, those with higher education degrees earn more, but the report shows that 27% of non-college people, earn more than those with a bachelor’s.
    I believe that we need to look for carefully at occupational needs and projections so that we can help people make the best career decisions for them, for our country, and for our position in the world economy.
    I believe that we need to reeducate parents and school counselors to understand that a college degree is not necessary the end goal, and that many very good and valuable careers require less than a college degree.
    I believe we have an obligation to provide more available career advice and guidance not only to youth in the exploration stage, but also to experienced workers.
    I believe we need to help people understand that times and conditions change and no matter what degree or training they have, they will need to upgrade, transfer their skills to new areas, or change completely as the economic times dictate.

  • Charles

    Why isn’t this report receiving more media coverage? The pyramid scheme of higher education is crumbling. With four-year colleges selling students nothing but debt, it seems strange that they aren’t censured as the big banks were.

  • PEA

    I am seriously concerned about the future of America. When we compare what the other countries do–the length of their day and year–and then our students against theirs on PISA or TIMMS, we are not comparing properly.
    What PK-12 is doing is preparing students for the changing world–not the jobs today that will not be here in one or two decades. So, generalizable skills are needed beyond that of 12th grade. Practical application of learning is important. Knowing strategies for teaching along with content is what our Pk-12 as well as our college teachers need. Understanding the world from which our student come to help them see what they can be is critical.
    There is a huge disconnect between our Pk-12 and our colleges. HUGE!! I don’t think that our colleges alon have this answer. It APPEARS that they are always talking DOWN to Pk-12 teachers and schools. What is the retention rate of the colleges? Even for students who have taken and gotten high scores in AP classes? It is all too often SINK or SWIM.
    Talk about lecture–who has more?

  • Don Langenberg

    I encountered the following quotation on YouTube several years ago: “We are educating for careers that have not been created, using technology not yet invented to solve problems that haven’t been discovered.” In my view, the most important feature of this report is its recognition of that reality and its plea for a much broader and effective system for guiding and assisting our young people as they prepare for their adult lives and careers. The truth is that most of us, from parents through high school teachers and counselors to college professors understand very little about today’s career environment. Enough already with the endless academic arguments about whether all students should have a proper traditional liberal education at a place like Harvard, or whether some should be encouraged to enter “trade schools” like that one down the street (MIT).

  • Nancy Brown

    Many people know college graduates that have not been able to find a job or discover, after working hard for their education, that they don’t like the career pathway in which they find themselves. Career Education is dear to my heart because I am a director of a high school Career Education program. Our students are successful, self-reliant, independent, and look at their education beyond high school as a pathway to a career rather than flounder in college as a result of a nebulous career goal. In high school, they have had experiences working with business, industry or university researchers. They also earn college credit in high school, scholarships, gain technical skills, and have the opportunity to participate in competitions related to their pathway. Having the opportunity to experience a career, they discover their potential and sometime decide that the career path they thought they would like does not work for them. But even in this case, they are the winner because they can always choose another path in college.
    Although career education can be very effective, there is a reluctance for business to allow interns into their facilities. We have compartmentalized education for so long not many outside of the traditional school feel that they have a stake in the game. Their vision is very short sighted and they point to all the reasons that they cannot have a high school intern rather than ways to make it happen.
    The ideas brought forth in this research are viable and can really change the face of education. However, the cultural change necessary will need much support from government, foundations, and business. Career Tech Education is NOT the dummmies way out as in the past. Good programs have strong ties to community colleges and career development. Learning by doing rather then the lectures-r-us approach is motivating to a variety of students. I hope that this article provokes thought and change in education.

  • Albert Foderaro

    As a former Director of Career Services in a community college environment for 32 years I gained a very good perspective on why so many students are unsuccessful in their pursuit of a college degree. The reality is that too many students never really learned at home or in school how to effectively make good initial academic and career choices. They come to college “career immature” and as a result end up on the failing end of the success formula in college and in life. Over the past two years there has been extensive research conducted that has done an excellent job identifying all the obvious reasons and the “letting students off-the-hook too easily” excuses that students use for not staying in college or being able to graduate within 4,5, or 6 years. My many years of experience proved time and time again that too many students make careless choices and end up changing majors, changing colleges, and dropping out. Eventually they come back, hoping that something clicks, or that lightning will strike, and they will somehow stumble into a successful career. It doesn’t have to be like that but for years our society has accepted that as normal. Trust me when I say that there are hundreds of students who actually do make good initial choices and have no problem graduating in four years. Perhaps we are spending too much time asking all the dropouts why they fail to stay in school til graduation and not enough time asking the successful students why they succeed. If we did we’d learn that actually going to class and getting help when they need it led to their success. Having the discipline to succeed breeds success and lacking the discipline to do what is necessary to succeed results in failure. That is just plain commonsense that we shouldn’t need extensive research to prove. On a personal note, I have two sons who proved it could be done and as a parent I appreciated how they approached their education and commitment to graduating in the expected period of time. They made good initial decisions and with some tweaking along the way those decisions resulted in favorable outcomes.It is so obvious that schools need to provide more personalized career counseling and really make an honest effort to connect students to the programs and support services necessary to help them overcome whatever obstacles that may stand in the way of success. Too many colleges say they do this but they lack the real commitment and often the resources to make it happen. Sure they’ll all promote having web-based career planning software and promote to parents and students that they offer some aspect of a career development program. That approach, although a good marketing and brochure piece, will never be the solution to helping students make good career plans. That approach alone doesn’t work believe me because if it did over the last 15 years we wouldn’t have the dropout mess we have now would we? Career planning software is only a tool to gather self awareness and career information, it is not a strategy. I have spent the last two years wanting to share some expertise and first-hand knowledge to try and help high schools and colleges to understand how to take the steps necessary for “creating cultures of student success” at their institutions. Environments that encourage and emphasize career services and success planning along with stressing the importance of students accepting responsibility for learning how to make good decisions and how to implement those decisons will most likely experience a greater number of students who achieve academic and career success. For a description of this new effort go to http://www.lifedecisionsgroup.com which is a website developed to explain the concept of Creating a Culture of Student Success in high schools and colleges. The solution to America’s problem rests with educator’s working hard to put an end to the “business as usual”, revolving door mentality that exists in colleges today. Students come, students go, pay tuition, flunk out, new students come, pay their bill, flunk out, and around and around the cycle goes with no significant improvement in graduation rates. The reality is that colleges have become businesses first with a focus more on institutional survival rather than survival and success of the students who attend those colleges. As a retired career services administrator that helped hundreds of students get it right, unfortunately on the second or third attempt, I have developed materials that can be used with students that can easily be customized and used by any college in America that really wants to address their dropout and graduation problem head on. It’s a very practical and commonsense approach yet so many people keep spending time and resources trying only to invent too many reasons and excuses why their students don’t succeed. I’ll be happy to share my ideas and expertise in the field with any college or organization who is open-minded enough to accept the help.

  • Toni Elka

    What are ADA/Student #s? (don’t understand your shorthand)

  • Toni Elka

    MaryAlice, Will you kindly recommend some reading for me regarding learning in adolescence. I run a school to career program and am interested in understanding how our strategies may/may not be a good fit for the level of development of our age group. My email address is tonielka@futurechefs.net. Thanks

  • dave osland

    The comments and report summary are leaving out a most important element for the success of our young people- The “soft skills and attitudes so important to life success”-
    1) Teaching and modeling a work ethic, instead of the entitlement mentality so prevalent today.
    2) Meaningful occupations that one enjoys and serves others in the process.
    3) The opportunity to excel and prosper from ones creativity, hard work and persistence.
    The above mentioned points all start at home in the family. Unfortunately, with the demise of the traditional core family, along with a prevalent “what’s in it for me? attitude fostered, all the “reforms” etc.. instituted in eduacation will have only limited success.
    It’s interesting to note, that prior to WWII, the avg. citizen had only an eighth grade education, yet American society grew and prospered
    in spite of the general lack of “higher education”. The morals and values of yesterday were the framework for a more competitve and prosperous society. Dave Osland

  • Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

    Thank you, Harvard Graduate School of Education, for finally bringing this discussion forward. It’s long overdue. Our national policy of promoting college for everyone is NOT appropriate and NOT working.
    Ironically, as we try to get all students ‘ready for college,’ many are not. Thus, colleges are looking more and more like college-prep schools, with the plethora of remediation offers. How very sad that is. And, all the while, this focus on remediation of academics pushes students in what they CANNOT do and ignores that they CAN and LIKE to do. We focus on student weaknesses, not strengths and interest. Very sad.
    As an antidote, check out Massachusetts’ own lawn care guy turned reformer, Joe Lamacchia. Visit his website, http://www.bluecollarandproudofit.com
    Blue Collar and Proud of it! It focuses on student strengths and interests. Check it out!

  • Alyssa Mulhearn

    Hello fellow commenters! I am writing a report for my college course about “Pathways to Prosperity” and education reform. I need the opinions of people, who have a background in education and education reform, about this type of movement in our education system. If you would be willing to answer a few questions I have, please e-mail me at – amulhearn@my.stlcc.edu
    Thank you so much!
    Alyssa Mulhearn

  • Richard Moore

    Not a single reference in the article, comments, or report of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Crawford?
    Folks, time to pick up a book.

  • Lucinda Baxter, Founder

    In 2008, I read the 2006 Gates Foundation study, “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts.” The study found that among 467 students aged 16-25 who had dropped out of public high schools, 81% said there should be more opportunities for real-world learning and experiential learning and that students need to see the connection between school and getting a good job. Shocked by what I learned, I was determined to change the status quo and recruited four friends with experience in education, youth programs, finance, marketing, and business to join me.
    Two years ago, we started STEP Education MA Inc. (a non-profit) (www.stepinspire.org). Depending on a student’s talents and interests, a successful career path may require a high school diploma, two- or four-year (or more) college degree, trade certification, or some other route. STEP exposes Boston urban high school students to a variety of workplaces and careers. Our formula is a simple one: We collaborate with the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Private Industry Council to introduce the STEP program and recruit students. We train students who register in STEP in the soft skills of self-awareness, confidence, goal setting and follow through, communication, and relationship building. The students research (on our website) and select businesses that interest them and sign up for tours. We even ask them to choose one industry that doesn’t interest them—most are surprised by what they learn from this. Then we take small groups of 3-15 students on employee-led tours of corporate workplaces where they can “see, smell, and touch” careers and workplace environments. They get to see first-hand how people just like themselves found their way to a satisfying career. The tour-guides may be CEO’s or business owners; they may be only a few years older than the students themselves. Our 20 corporate partners represent such diverse fields as financial services, engineering, technology, marketing, hospitality, retail, higher education, sports, and health care.
    Pathways to Prosperity states, “The workplace is clearly the place to ‘try on’ or test out a career choice. It’s also by far the best venue in which to learn the ‘21st century skills’ so critical to success in today’s economy. And work-linked learning can be extraordinarily powerful in engaging students who are bored or turned off by conventional classroom instruction.”
    This report is exciting and rewarding confirmation that what STEP offers is one solution to fixing the problem of broken education.

  • Holly Kane

    I’m glad that this conversation is taking place.
    I’ve just started teaching Developmental English at my local community college. The students in my class failed the college’s entrance writing exam. My job is to teach them to write a simple essay where they stay on topic.
    If they pass, they will proceed to the next class where they will be taught how to write an essay comparing two opposing views. If they pass the second class, they will gain entrance into basic freshman English.
    My students and I are inhabiting the no-man’s land that our present system has created. They have graduated from high school. They are personable people, but issues like homelessness, history of abuse, addiction, and learning disabilities stand in the way of their ability to focus on school.
    They have never been “left behind,” but they will be soon, without any tools. At this college, you need to take freshman English in order to get a two year degree or even a certification.

  • Common Jane

    “Despite decades of efforts to reform education, and billions of dollars of expenditures, the harsh reality is that America is still failing to prepare millions of its young people to lead successful lives as adults.”
    One minor adjustment is all thats needed to create a huge ripple effect and turn things around ..for the better ..tapping into the talents and employability that is currently being ‘lost’. Changing the education system to cater to the different temperaments of students is the answer.
    The main roadblock to any achievement is fear. It quite simply all comes back to emotional intelligence
    and a system that doesn’t accomodate the non-aggressive minds. In the current system aggression and competition is God that leaves 1/4 of the population who’s dismissed but who’s talents could be helped to thrive.
    Competition begins at birth for most of us. An article from the Economist Magazine “Pester Power” explains it perfectly. Although the article is about beetles it also applies to humans. Its not about survival of the fittest but about a sort of deception that is going on with the aggressives… and it isn’t necessary. They take more resources than they need, trampling the needy.
    In infancy, adaptation to competition results in a mode of survival that lasts for a lifetime. One can easily point to research on family dynamics (scapegoating, birth order, sibling/parent relationships etc…), books on self esteem, works of art etc.. …to illustrate where the the academic system is failing. It all comes back to emotional intelligence and the *smart* young minds who consciously choose to “opt out” rather than participate in what is in actuality the foolish nonsense of being competitive.
    We all know that public speaking is the number one fear for most people. Yet we see emphasis on this endeavor ad nauseum as being the pathway to success. No matter what one achieves the reward may not be worth the effort they put into it if the “reward” is the public stage, either big or small, local or national. Maybe their efforts will land them on a mere local stage but its still a stage within a culture that was shaped by academics ..with expectations that one will succeed (or FAIL) on academic terms and conditions. For those who’ve been victimized its not so simple as Pfeffer would suggest to corporate executives wanting to climb the ladder to power “…get over yourself”. It is a dog-eat-dog world and smart people know their own limitations. They have high self esteem because they know better than to expose themselves to threats ..threats they’ve known since birth. The path to success is littered with corpses? Smart people don’t buy into that, they opt out. Thats pretty simple.
    Work needs to be done to perfect “the stage aspect” within the education system. The different temperaments need to be catered to and then there’ll be more participation and enthusiasm for learning. To call it a “fear of public speaking” is actually wrong, the terminology needs to be corrected. It is an “awareness of potential victimization”. It is smart to pay attention to ones instincts and less desirable to be aggressive, confrontational, competitive. Although there is a place for these talents it doesn’t need to be So prevaling…

  • habib arti

    Thanks for saying so, i need some time to think about this. I have just got interested in blogging and hopefully i am able to do so

  • Tim Mossholder

    Two notes on this quote:
    “The compact’s central goal would be that by the time they reach their mid-20s, every young adult will be equipped with the education and experience he or she needs to lead a successful life as an adult. Achieving this goal would require far bigger contributions from the nation’s employers and governments.”
    1. Let’s be reminded, as subtlety noted, that “experience” can be as important as “education” for young adults to lead successful lives. It’s critical for students to be exposed to environments where their world-views are expanded while learning to serve and develop empathy for others. It’s one reason why the “gap year” trend is on a marked increase (of which Harvard is a proponent).
    2. In addition to “employers and governments”, churches and religious organizations have been stepping in to create transformational spaces for young adults. Groups as diverse as Jesuits and Pentecostals are helping young adults have mentored life-shaping experiences both at home and abroad. Most of these are not “in place of” college, but are supplemental to other formal educational opportunities.
    Many young adults are simply no longer satisfied with the college-debt-employment circuit. They are looking for more “experiential” learning environments, especially those in which they can be primary contributors. Hopefully more employers, governments and religious organizations will take this growing reality to heart.

  • Bill Clarke


  • Lanette Higham

    Education is not the only failing thing in our society. There is mass unemployment across the board of people from every path in life. The problem is too many people not enough jobs.
    Harvard graduates have some of the best education available in this country. If they can’t find work ask yourself what are the other people doing? Suffering.
    I agree that Harvard taking a look at it’s educational programs is a good idea.
    We as a society need to come up with some new income sources. The last of the great inventors that built this country are long gone now.
    Instead of teaching people to think about how to get a job maybe you should be teaching how to be inventive. Use new technologies for the good of everyone.
    Just some of my thoughts. Hoping it will give you some food for thought.

  • Brian Gordon

    Jon B. – While your comments are well intentioned they are based on the dangerous group think which has been dictating educational policy in our nation for years. The point of this study is we can’t and shouldn’t send all of our students to college. This flies in the face of conventional thinking and insights comments like those in your paragraph. Our workforce needs 22% of our students to obtain a bachelors degree or higher in the decade ahead according to the Occupational Outlook handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The “we stink at test scores” argument is nonsensical. Our best and brightest students shine in international competitions. China has a national goal of sending 15% of students to college. In 2008, 68.6% of our High School graduates enrolled in college because society is telling them they need a degree to “get ahead”. I encourage you to do some research and feel you will realize this is not about “lowering the bar”. We are one of the only countries in the world that has 12 years of compulsory education and educates everybody (including special needs students that would be denied these opportunities in other countries). Your thinking is economically destructive to our nation’s future. I invite you to read this to understand why I say that.
    Thank you to all of the people involved in this study casting a realistic light on our educational system and it’s needs.

  • http://twitter.com/cantubury cantubury

    farmers educated children for the “industrial revolution”. The factories banged out products and we consumed them Then came the information age and post industrial society. McLuan reigns. the genome, robots, information, nano=technology now rule. The Greek word for education “educe” meaning to draw forth no longer applies. a new model is on the horizon but who will be able to see with the burning sun of innovation and confusion about education school’s mission.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cmw237 Chris Watson

    People who liked this article might want to check out the following videos:

    Sir Ken Robinson on education reform (short version):

    or Mike Rowe’s testimony before a Senate subcommittee regarding the need for more skilled tradespeople:

  • Anonymous

    Bah. To use a colorful southernism, this is “sawing on the wrong end of the hog.” The American workplace isn’t producing jobs for the young people coming up. When someone can give us a depiction of what the workplace needs, we in education are damned good at adapting to provide it. When capital uses tech to vastly crank up productivity and offshores good jobs for the least money, it certainly appears that nothing like full employment in livable jobs is possible. Capital needs to use its alleged genius for wealth creation to produce some damned jobs. I assure you that we in education will step up to populate these workplaces.

  • Vlad

    Actually, America falls behind other countries in terms of number of persons, who actually graduate from college. The correct decision is not to persuade young people to stay away from colleges, but equip them with the skills, which enable them to successfully graduate. 60% of adult population in Japan earned at least one college degree. If you will look at the individuals, who achieve the most in their careers in USA, that statistics will prove necessity of a degree. Furthermore, colleges should re-orient from producing diplomas in philosophy, poetry, and ancient studies to much more practical majors. When you last time witnessed a person will degree in classics landing on a job in this occupation and when you last time observed the same situation for example for an IT specialist?

  • Elaine

    I’m just a mom, but I heard the interview on NPR regarding this study and couldn’t get enough! My son is trying to make the decision about going to college right now. He is certainly smart enough to sail through, but isn’t that what many of our youth do? They “sail” through 4 years of something that doesn’t get them a job or according to one of the comments below lands them in prison. I know my son won’t land in prison…well, I hope he won’t anyway, but he’s just not that motivated to go to college. He’s not a sit and listen to the same old lecture kind of kid. He has ideas but they do not necessarily include sitting in a classroom for 4 years. I am encouraging him to think out of the box and perhaps learn a trade (go to a technical or trade college for 2 years). I guess that’s the same as going to a college that teaches academia in some sense, except that when he leaves he has a skill that he can use — perhaps to start his own business (I’ve been self-employed for 7 years).

    Anyway, thanks for the article, the study and all the very interesting comments about this issue. My son is living this scenario right now!!

  • Bob Abel

    Brian, you have drunk the “coolaid” yourself! Have you ever been to a detention facility that is also responsible for educating the young people who are incarcerated there? Do you want to know the most common attribute the inmates share? Our public education system has failed them!

    When you send the message (covertly) that “unless you are academically successful enough to go to college, you are destined to be a castaway in U.S. society today “- expect to build more prisons! That academic group think has to change!

    You are obviously ignorant of the fact that there are plenty of high-paying jobs that require SKILLS (other than writing a 5-paragraph essay) in the US today. In fact, chances are, your plumber & auto mechanic probably make more per hour than you do. Furthermore, they enjoy their life and make good neighbors.

    Come down from your ivory tower and rub shoulders with us humans for a while. Become a volunteer in the prison system. Get a grip on reality. That is the only antidote to the “coolaid” you have been drinking.


  • Bob Abel

    Awesome way to make a difference!! Keep up the good work and replicate your model!


  • Anonymous

    The education system really worked for years and are very happy with this “duh” open the eyes exercise at the University of Harvard. Unfortunately, “education” has always been “educated” themselves so we have a textbook case of perfect blind leading the blind.

  • Prbyers1215

    Finally, an official study that documents my long-held conviction after 30 years as a high school counselor. The American educational system based on “four year college for all” is depriving our youth of developing realistic educational and personal goals that they can achieve in order to become independent adults who can find jobs based on their abilities. Our schools continue to perpetuate the myth that anything short of a bachelor’s degree or more is failure and falling short of the American Dream for success. By failing to give all students information about alternative pathways to finding a career, we are short-changing the majority of our students.

  • U2wes447

    They sure got this study right! Sure its nice to obtain a 4 year college degree but it does NOT gurantee anyone of finding a good job! I know of several guys who graduated from high school and when they were about 23 -25 years old they decided to start working for a decent City Fire Department as Fireman. Today, after 20-25 years with the Fire Dept. and Strong Union Protection from their Corrupt Union, these guys are about to Retire (in their early 50′s) and start collecting their nice 40-65K Pensions that I and everyone else who works outside the Government with no pension will Fund!!!…. On top of this a recent report indicated that about 50+percent of Fireman claim some form of a disibility before they retire so they can get another 15-30K added on top of their Pensions (and this corrupt disbility income is Tax-Free)!!! Do the research on google and you will see. Do the research, you will also find out that about 50%+ of the Military People who are coming out of the Military are claiming some type of a disbility to get more money from the US Treasury (Tax-Free). These are basically thugs, who have NO real health problems! They are basically stealing money for themselves when the money could be given to “True Military Heros who have serious health problems and injuries”!!! Also, why are local state funded smaller colleges (like CNU) in VA going thru a 600+ million dollar building phase when so many students are not getting good jobs?

  • Wldurley

    Gee, and I had thought that the entire justification of the public funding of education was, following Horace Mann and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, “an educated citizenry that could therefor be trusted to govern itself.” How quaint and naive of me… .There’s nothing wrong with trade schools such business schools or teachers training schools or law schools or medical schools or automotive or agricultural schools: it’s just that one shouldn’t confuse training with education. The Republic depends on an educated electorate. Or as Churchill put it: “The first duty of a university is to teach wisdom, not a trade;character, not technicalities.
    We want a lot of engineers in the modern world, but we do not want a world of engineers.”"This quote comes from a 1950 address at the University of Copenhagen. He issued a very similar warning against an over-reliance on technically-educated people two years earlier in a 1948 speech in Oslo, Norway: “Young people at universities study to achieve knowledge and not to learn a trade. We must all learn how to support ourselves, but we must also learn how to live. We need a lot of engineers in the modern world, but we do not want a world of modern engineers.”

    [Ed.: removed hyperlink]

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