Upon being released in 2011, the Pathways to Prosperity Project at HGSE’s original report revealed the struggles of young people to attain employment in America, despite many good jobs going unfilled, and helped launch a national conversation about the goals and structure of American high schools.
“The Pathways to Prosperity report made two things abundantly clear — one, this country has failed to provide the majority of its young people with the preparation they need to be successful, and two, that failure comes with perilous economic and social consequences,” said HGSE Dean James Ryan.
Since that report was released in March 2011, the coauthors of the Pathways Project initiated two areas of continued work: Professor Robert Schwartz joined forces with Jobs for the Future (JFF), a Boston-based nonprofit, to launch the Pathways to Prosperity Network; and Senior Lecturer Ronald Ferguson held a national conference for local and national leaders to develop a set of recommendations. Now, two new reports, The Pathways to Prosperity Network: A State Progress Report 2012–2014 and Creating Pathways to Prosperity: A Blueprint for Action, released this week, identify how much progress the eight states in the network have made in two years, and outline how others can move on the issue.
The Pathways to Prosperity Network brings together eight states committed to developing career pathways that span grades 9–14 and are aligned with high-growth, high-demand occupations that are key to each state’s economy. The Pathways Network report documents the progress the eight states – California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee – have made in a short time from launching career pathways in fields such as information technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing, and in building political and financial support for this work. In particular, the report shares lessons learned in targeting key economic regions, analyzing regional assets and gaps, and focusing technical assistance and support on helping states and regions with such things as early career advising and exposure, engaging employers, and building intermediary organizations that can link employers and schools to scale up the provision of workplace learning opportunities for young people.
“Our overarching goal for the network is to increase the numbers of young people who complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential valued in the labor market, and get launched on a stable and satisfying career that can also provide the basis to pursue further education and career advancement,” said Amy Loyd, Ed.L.D.’13, executive director of the Pathways to Prosperity Network. “Students need better skills — for work and college — but [historically] we’ve paid more attention to college readiness than to career education.”
Schwartz, who is now professor emeritus at HGSE and co-leads the network with JFF Vice President and HGSE Adjunct Lecturer Nancy Hoffman, points to California as an especially promising example of a network state that has moved aggressively to support the emerging interest in career pathways. Last June the California legislature appropriated $250 million to initiate the Career Pathways Trust, a fund to support the development of regional consortia bringing together leaders from K-12, community colleges, the workforce system, and employers to build career pathways aligned with the needs of the regional economy. In addition, the state awarded 39 grants ranging from $600,000 to $15 million after an intensely competitive review process, and the legislature has just appropriated another $250 million for next year.
“This is but one example of the kinds of investments our states are making to create an opportunity structure for young people to acquire the skills and credentials they will need to get launched on a career path that can take them into the middle class,” Schwartz said.
The new report details a framework of reference for other states interested in on-the-ground efforts of the network. “The 2012–2014 State Progress Report details a number of impressive victories in the network’s eight partner states — from new legislation to millions of dollars in public and private investment in postsecondary education — but more work still needs to be done if we are to fulfill our pledge of preparing all students for college or careers,” Ryan said.
While the Pathways to Prosperity Network expanded, Ferguson led efforts bringing together 400 business, civic sector, governmental, and academic experts in March 2013. Participants from across the U.S. joined with colleagues from as far away as Germany and Switzerland to discuss past, current, and future strategies for building the U.S. Pathways to Prosperity movement. Creating Pathways to Prosperity: a Blueprint for Action aims to help a broad range of people understand the structure of the movement and their potential roles in it. It summarizes the conference and offers a framework for understanding how civic leadership and other key components of the movement can progress.
The 80-page report includes an introduction that provides background and context, as well as recommendations and summaries for each of 13 workshops. Grouped under three major headings — State and Federal Policy, System Resources, and Quality Programming — the recommendations and workshop summaries cover local, state, and national elements required for a high-quality system. Elements include, models for blending academic and career education, arrangements for developing skill certifications with widely-recognized credentials, approaches to career-oriented teaching, and career guidance systems that go beyond what schools alone can provide. The report emphasizes the role of intermediary organizations to connect state and local systems to ideas and resources in the national Pathways movement. Intermediaries that bring together civic, business, and governmental leaders can help design local systems, track and document progress, and work to ensure that local programming achieves both quality and scale.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm at the conference and continuing encouragement to compile this report,” Ferguson said. “There is a broad community of people already working on this agenda and our aspiration is to help inform and mobilize even more.”
The new reports demonstrate that through continued momentum, it’s possible to make changes and build career pathways. However, Schwartz and Ferguson contend that there still is significant work left to be done. Even with growing national attention on the issue, Ferguson described a much needed cultural shift. He said that employers can be too focused on only hiring people with four-year college degrees. In addition, many parents pressure their children to earn four-year degrees, even when other alternatives might fit their skills and interests better.
Ferguson and Schwartz reiterated the initial report’s findings that there has never been a time when more than a third of young adults earned four-year degrees. Furthermore, most jobs do not require them.
“We need to acknowledge that people can be skilled workers and great human beings without four-year degrees,” Ferguson said. “Every young person needs career preparation beyond high school, but that can take many forms. We need cultural and institutional shifts in order to expand our will and capacity to help young people to explore a variety of career alternatives and prepare for success in whichever ones they eventually choose.”
Finally, Schwartz and Ferguson emphasized that many students for whom four-year degrees would be most appropriate still lack opportunities to achieve them. They agreed that making sure young people have opportunities to achieve as many years of schooling as they desire, and whatever degrees they aim to achieve, should be as much a goal of the Pathways movement as any other. Their motivation for both new and old Pathways reports is to help ensure that a full range of school-to-career options is both well developed and widely available.