Harvard report calls for education system reform
Pathways to Prosperity Project says four-year college does not work for everyone, American students need alternative choices, vocational training
A new report released last week by Harvard University encourages the United States to better prepare its young adults for making a successful transition to working life by eliminating the "college for all" mentality that pervades much of society today. The findings encourage the nation to promote a "post high-school credential for all" way of thinking that incorporates two-year colleges, community colleges, vocational training programs and apprenticeships.
The Pathways to Prosperity Project, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, released this analysis shortly after University Asst. Sociology Prof. Josipa Roksa published her findings that nearly half of undergraduates are not making significant improvements in critical thinking, analytical reasoning and written communications during the first two years of college.
Instead of solely focusing on students at four-year colleges, the Harvard report draws attention to the two-thirds of young people who either do not attend college or drop out. The report argues that the U.S. needs to adopt programs similar to those in Europe that offer high-quality vocational education. These strategies have allowed European nations to "leapfrog" the United States in high-school and college graduation rates, the report claims.
"Our vocational system has never been a socially legitimate option," said Robert B. Schwartz, co-leader of the project and academic dean at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Schwartz said he proposes alternatives that would allow students to give their education direction.
Second-year College student Dasha Prokhorova agreed most people believe they have two options after high school: either go to a four-year college or try to find a job. "There's really no middle ground," Prokhorova said.
Schwartz emphasized that educational problems begin when students drop out of high school, predominantly because they are unable to see a correlation between the work they do and the future they want.
"We need to create other pathways where kids can see themselves linked to a job, where they can start earning and learning from their junior year of high school in programs that will pull them ... into a job based on the real and emerging needs of the labor market," Schwartz said.
The report says "one of the most damaging disconnects in our current education system" is that many college students can't find jobs that align with their programs of study. The resulting conflict between the two causes pushes many students to drop out, according to the report.
The report also proposes solutions to these problems, including a different approach to schooling and the American education system.
The report calls for "a broader vision of school reform that incorporates multiple pathways to carry young people from high school to adulthood."
It says these new programs must be supported by employers through programs such as career counseling in middle school and paid internships in high school. Colleges also need to take more responsibility for the career counseling they offer to students, Schwartz said.
Finally, the report proposes a new "social compact" between society and its young people that would outline what educators, employers and governments will do to provide these different "pathways," and how they will support them on their journey.