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States form coalition to boost career training

By Christine Armario
AP Education Writer / June 19, 2012
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More than a year after the release of a Harvard University report encouraging the development of more pathways to careers for young adults, a coalition of six states has begun taking steps toward offering viable alternatives for students beyond attending a four-year college.

The Pathways to Prosperity report by Harvard University's Graduate School of Education concluded millions of students are being shortchanged in preparation for a successful career by a one-size-fits-all approach that encourages everyone to earn a bachelor's degree.

The researchers noted that while most jobs now require some higher education, just a third of those created in the coming years are expected to require a bachelor's degree or higher. The same amount will need an associate's degree or occupational credential. The report's authors urged the U.S. to place a greater emphasis on occupational instruction.

Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee announced Tuesday they have formed a network to build alternative tracks leading to a successful career. They'll be working with the Pathways to Prosperity Project at Harvard and Jobs for the Future to connect employers with educators and policymakers.

"We're going to work in a more deliberate, concerted way than we have been on establishing career pathways," said Paul Reville, Massachusetts's secretary of education.

Harvard doctoral students and leaders from Jobs for the Future, an organization that seeks to align education with career opportunities, will be visiting each state to look at current workforce needs and where there are postsecondary education gaps. They'll then focus on building a system of pathways for high school students toward a postsecondary credential.

"This is valuable not just for preparing students to transition one day into the workforce but also building motivation and inspiration for students," Reville said.

The idea of guiding students toward a path that doesn't result in a four-year degree has been somewhat controversial. Some fear it will result in students being sent on tracks early on that limit them later in life. The report authors and network participants say students who choose a career track will be equally prepared to pursue a four-year degree later.

Robert Schwartz, co-author of the report and a leader of the state network, said the coalition comes at a time when more families are questioning the value of investing tens of thousands of dollars in higher education that burdens students with debt and doesn't always lead to a lucrative career.

"I think we're going to see much more pressure from middle class families on schools," Schwartz said.

The coalition expects other states to join the network in the weeks and months ahead.

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Follow Christine Armario on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/cearmario

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