Multiple Pathways and State Policy: Toward Education and Training beyond High School1

Article excerpt

Commissioned by Jobs for the Future for the project, Redesigning High Schools: The Unfinished Agenda in State Education Reform. Reprinted unedited in its entirety with permission

A seismic economic shift has changed the rules by which Americans strive to get ahead in society. Hard work, once the bedrock of opportunity, is no longer sufficient, in and of itself, to ensure individual prosperity and security for either individuals or the larger community. The consequence of this new economy, compounded by national demographic changes, is that workforce requirements and civic responsibilities combine to demand everincreasing, individual knowledge and skills. The education and training that most Americans require to fully participate in our economy and society are not simply education credentials but the specific knowledge and skill levels that the credential implies.

Public policy should recognize these changes by assuring that almost all Americans have access to at least two years of education and training beyond high school. New policies would move toward this goal by engaging the full range of education and training programs, regardless of the education provider, in the creation of multiple pathways resulting from collaborative efforts across educational sectors or redesigned structures.

Multiple pathways do not imply multiple standards-but rather clear standards at various levels and many ways of moving toward the standards. In this sense, we agree with Marc Tucker's conceptualization of multiple pathways as "clear gateways and many flexible paths between these gateways."2

We begin by describing the economic and social imperatives for significantly increasing higher education access and attainment in the population. The second section addresses public policy challenges to achieving this goal. Third, we identify the elements of the public policy infrastructure needed for large-scale educational reform, with particular attention to accountability systems and finance and governance changes. We conclude with observations on the political challenges that must be addressed to extend access to postsecondary education to all.

The New Economic Imperative

In the new global economy, prosperity for nations and states requires significantly more workers with higher levels of knowledge and skills. In May 2002, Business Week warned employers of an impending "wrenching manpower and skills shortage," especially of college-educated workers, as labor force growth slows and baby boomers retire, even assuming the current high pace of immigration of recent years (Bernstein 2002). Large proportions of the young Americans available to enter the workforce will come from the low-income and demographic groups that are least well served by American education at all levels-those who have the lowest rates of completing high school and enrolling and persisting in college, including students of color, first generation college- goers, and English language learners.

A recent analysis of U.S. Census data by Graham Toft of the Hudson Institute projects a net increase of people with less than a high school education through 2020 (Toft 2002).3 Although Toft projects modest increases in the numbers of those who are college-educated, his major finding predicts a severe mismatch between educational attainment of young workers and the escalating knowledge and skill requirements of the new economy. According to the 2000 census data, of the 34.6 million 16- to 24-year-olds in the labor force, 47 percent were enrolled in neither high school nor college (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2001). Clearly, these young people represent a reservoir of workforce knowledge and skills-but only if states and educational institutions see it as their mission to ensure "no child (or adult) left behind."

Throughout the world, the pressure to develop human talent by raising educational levels extends to higher education-that is, to education and training beyond high school. …