Of the millions of American high school students who receive their diplomas this month, 70 percent will move on to college. Unfortunately, by the time they reach their mid-twenties, fewer than half of those students will earn a four-year college degree. Recent studies tell us that even among those under 25 who have earned a college degree, as many as half may be unemployed or, more typically, underemployed. For those young people with no college degree, or worse yet no high school diploma, the situation is even more dire.
In February 2011 the Pathways to Prosperity Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) released a report challenging our excessive focus on the four-year college pathway, arguing that we need to create additional pathways that combine rigorous academics with strong technical education to equip the majority of young people with the skills and credentials to succeed in our increasingly challenging labor market. Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century hit a nerve with employers, educators, and state officials struggling with high unemployment rates, perceived skills mismatches, and the devastating effect of the financial crisis on young people.
The enormous interest generated by the Pathways report has led to the launch of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a collaboration between the Pathways to Prosperity Project at HGSE, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and six states focused on ensuring that many more young people complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with currency in the labor market, and launch into a career while leaving open the prospect of further education. To accomplish this goal, participating states will deeply engage with employers and educators to build career pathways systems for high school-aged students. Each state will be led by a coalition of key public and private sector leaders committed to mobilizing and sustaining political and financial support for the agenda and addressing legislative or regulatory barriers that inhibit progress. The work will initially focus on one or two key regional labor markets within each state, but the long-term goal is to create a statewide system of career pathways that can serve a majority of students.