“Jobs that actually exist.”
There’s something profoundly important about those four words, which serve as the operative phrase in the mission statement of a foundation that actor and activist Mike Rowe established to help young Americans fill the “skills gap.”
Vitally, Rowe has never said that a four-year degree is a bad path. He’s simply noted, time and again, that it’s not the only path, and that may people who pursue a four-year degree find themselves with significant student debt and few prospects for work.
No matter the path, though, this much is clear: There is nothing wrong with education for the sake of education, but for education to actually create opportunity, it must be aligned to opportunities.
Rowe may be one of the highest profile advocates for a realignment of American values that encourages people to pursue educational opportunities for jobs that actually exist, but he is by no means alone. In the wake of the passage and early implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, especially, one thing has become crystal clear: As a nation, we must invest wisely, placing our collective bet on training and education that leads to jobs.
And there are jobs. Lots of them. Three million or more, at any given time, that will pay a good wage to Americans who have a high school diploma, some fundamental workforce and technical skills, the desire to continue to learn, and the capacity to work hard.
A high school education that prepares students to attend college is a very good thing. A high school education that only prepares students to attend college is not. It’s time we look at all of the workforce opportunities that exist, and align our education, training and social encouragement accordingly.