Magazine article Leadership

Multiple Pathways to Success: In an Economy in Which Education Has Never Been More Important to Economic Success, Students Should Be Offered Multiple Pathways to Post-Secondary Education, Careers and Successful Adulthood

Magazine article Leadership

Multiple Pathways to Success: In an Economy in Which Education Has Never Been More Important to Economic Success, Students Should Be Offered Multiple Pathways to Post-Secondary Education, Careers and Successful Adulthood

Article excerpt

Even as the nation is slowly recovering from the deepest recession since the Great Depression, another problem threatens the long-term health of the U.S. economy. We call it the "forgotten half challenge." Today, we are failing to prepare millions of our young adults to succeed in the 21st century economy. Unless we find more effective ways to educate and equip this forgotten half population, we will face a more difficult future, with diminished economic prospects and a society in which the American dream is increasingly out of reach for millions.

This problem is especially pronounced in California. Ironically, as the global capital of high technology, the Golden State helped power the extraordinary boom America enjoyed until recently. Yet this economic success--fueled in good measure by the ability of firms like Cisco, Google and Intel to attract the very best graduates from around the world--stands in sharp contrast to an alarming deterioration in California's schools and colleges. California ranks near the bottom on the "Nation's Report Card," the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In fourth-grade math, for instance, California students came in 44th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia (Baldi et al., 2007). According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, California falls below the U.S. average--and far below the top five states--in the percentage of young adults who earn a high school degree (Lee et al., 2007).

Moreover, the budget cuts forced by the recession have hit the state's community college system hard, reducing its affordability. As a result, California now lags the nation in the percentage of students who complete a post-secondary degree. Indeed, even in San Jose--at the very heart of Silicon Valley--a stunning 56 percent of public high school graduates do not continue on to college (Johnson, 2009).

In an economy in which education has never been more important to economic success, meeting the forgotten half challenge is clearly a huge imperative for California's school administrators. If we want today's students to prosper as adults, we must find ways to substantially increase the numbers who complete a meaningful postsecondary degree or credential, and who master the 21st century skills needed to succeed in today's economy.

Fortunately, a new approach is emerging that shows real promise in meeting this challenge. The approach is based on the belief that high school students must he offered "multiple pathways" to post-secondary education, careers, and a successful adulthood. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the multiple pathways movement, and how school administrators might employ its principles to help more students succeed.

The emergence of the 'forgotten half' challenge

The challenges we face today stand in sharp contrast to the extraordinary gains we made in educational attainment during the 20th century. In 1910, fewer than 15 percent of Americans over age 25 had a high school degree (Douglass, 2000). By the 1980s, more than 75 percent of adults had a high school diploma, a five-fold increase (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2008).

Similarly, thanks in good measure to the GI Bill, the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree more than quadrupled between 1940 and the 1980s. These gains helped the U.S. emerge as the world leader in educational attainment.

California helped spearhead these gains. Indeed, by the 1970s, California's K-12 system was widely considered one of the best in the nation. California long led the nation in viewing higher education as a critical tool to promote economic mobility and growth. California was a pioneer in providing access to a community college system that grew to become the world's largest system of higher education, serving 2.8 million students.

But in recent years, the U.S. has surrendered this leadership. …

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