Ed School Report Calls for Job Preparation

A Harvard Graduate School of Education report released today calls for an increase in vocational training in high schools, suggesting that attending college may not be the best choice for all secondary school students.

“Pathways to Prosperity” states that the current system of education is not adequately preparing students for the real world, according to project director William C. Symonds.

“The ‘one-size-fits-all’ model just doesn’t work for everybody,” he said. “There’s a variety of pathways to success.”

In his 2009 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama encouraged Americans to return to school and said that every American would need more than a high school diploma. But the report states that much of the time, students attending post-secondary schools fail to graduate on time with a diploma. In four-year schools, only 56 percent of students graduate with a diploma in six years, and in two-year schools, less than 30 percent graduate in three years. Indeed, the U.S. has the highest college drop-out rate in the industrialized world, according to the report.

“What does that say about the future of our economy and the future of our society?” Symonds said.

The report, which was headed by Ed School Professor Robert B. Schwartz, found that “many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs that pay a middle-class wage” and noted that the teen employment rate is 28.6 percent, the lowest it has been since the Great Depression.

The report states that students are often pushed to succeed academically and to attend post-secondary schools, but according to project co-chair Ronald F. Ferguson, college may not be the best option for all students.

“Pretending that everyone is headed for a college degree is just not fair to those for whom college is not a good fit. They need other options,” Ferguson wrote in an e-mailed statement.

According to the report, only one-third of jobs in America require a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to 36 percent that do not necessitate a college diploma at all. The report calls for schools to partner with businesses in order to incorporate more job training into their curricula, with the intention of preparing students for their future vocations. The report also cites European nations as a model, highlighting the Czech Republic, which educates almost 80 percent of its students in either vocational training or a combined program with academics. Czech students have a higher rate of graduating from high school than students in the United States.

While the report looks to European nations for guidance in implementing vocational programs, it does not address the social and economic differences that exist between the United States and Europe, which Ferguson said could be a point of debate. “I expect that the main criticism is that the report does not answer all of the questions it raises,” he said.

Symonds said he hopes the report will alter the way education policy is formulated in the United States.

“We need to engage in a national dialogue—a dramatic shift in the way Americans look at education,” he said.

— Staff writer Michelle M. Hu can be reached at michellehu@college.harvard.edu.

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