Build non-degree paths to the middle class

Can the Middle Class Be Saved? asks Don Peck in an interesting (and depressing) Atlantic story.

College graduates with a four-year degree are doing better than non-graduates, whose prospects are “flat or failing,” he writes. But the only people earning more are those with postgraduate degrees.

The less-educated middle class — people who made a decent living without a bachelor’s degree — is suffering financially and socially, Peck writes.

In a national study of the American family released late last year, the sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox wrote that among “Middle Americans”—people with a high-school diploma but not a college degree—an array of signals of family dysfunction have begun to blink red. “The family lives of today’s moderately educated Americans,” which in the 1970s closely resembled those of college graduates, now “increasingly resemble those of high-school dropouts, too often burdened by financial stress, partner conflict, single parenting, and troubled children.”

. . . Between 2006 and 2008, among moderately educated women, 44 percent of all births occurred outside marriage, not far off the rate (54 percent) among high-school dropouts; among college-educated women, that proportion was just 6 percent.

National policy is to turn everyone into a college graduate.

Grants, loans, and tax credits to undergraduate and graduate students total roughly $160 billion each year; by contrast, in 2004, federal, state, and local spending on employment and training programs (which commonly assist people without a college education) totaled $7 billion—an inflation-adjusted decline of about 75 percent since 1978.

Peck likes the idea of “career academies” within larger high schools and apprenticeships linked to community colleges as ways to help students find “paths into the middle class that do not depend on a four-year college degree.”