Poor and working-class Americans are falling further behind college-educated workers, writes Mike Petrilli, editor of Education for Upward Mobility. Their frustration, expressed in the improbable rise of Donald Trump, is finally drawing attention. We need ways to help kids from left-behind families “learn the skills they need to compete for middle-class and high-wage jobs.”
Earning a four-year degree is one route to upward mobility, but it can’t be the only option.
Only 14 percent of students from lower-income families will complete four-year degrees, estimates Andrew Kelly. There’s a big pay-off for those who graduate, but what about everyone else?
“High-quality career and technical education, culminating in industry-recognized post-secondary credentials” is a viable path to the middle class, writes Petrilli.
But most students follow the “bachelor’s degree or bust” model. For disadvantaged students, that often leads to remedial classes at a community college, frustration and failure.
Even young people with just a high school diploma can make it into the middle class if they complete high school, work full-time and delay parenthood until they are 21 and married, writes Petrilli, citing research by Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins.
What can schools do? Persuading students they’re on the path to a decent job is a good first step.