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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Education pays — but there’s more than one way

Education is a path to upward mobility, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in response to Rachel Cohen’s Atlantic story, Education Isn’t the Key to a Good Income. Petrilli edited Education for Upward Mobility to which I contributed a chapter.

“Four-year college degrees . . .  are the closest things we have to a guarantee of propelling poor kids into the middle class,” writes Petrilli.

However, “while a college degree has a big payoff, it also comes with a low probability,” he writes. “Among children from the bottom third of the income distribution, (Andrew) Kelly estimates, just 14 percent will complete four-year degrees.”

“High-quality career and technical education, culminating in industry-recognized post-secondary credentials,” is another route to the middle class, writes Petrilli.

Right now we mostly shuffle kids through so-called college preparation courses. According to the most recent data, 81 percent of high school students are taking an academic route; only 19 percent are “concentrating” in CTE (which means earning at least three credits in a single CTE program area).

What percentage of “college-prep” students are doing work that will prepare them to pass college classes? Maybe half? The rest won’t be prepared for anything.

Instead of the “bachelor’s or bust” strategy, Petrilli advocates offering “coherent pathways” to technical education options.

In the much-praised Finnish education system, about half of high school students pursue a technical path, which leads to skilled jobs at good pay.

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