The U.S. presidential campaign has focused a great deal on the need to expand economic opportunity, but candidates in both parties have not said enough about how they would achieve it.
While helping more students go to college has been a topic of discussion and is a vitally important goal, what about those who do not go—or who drop out of high school? They are largely being ignored, as they have been for decades, by an education system that is stuck in the past.
That must change.
We will not solve the critical challenges of poverty, underemployment, wage stagnation, and bulging prisons unless we get serious about investing in effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs. Other countries—such as Germany and Switzerland—have figured this out. We must, too.
About 70% of young Americans, and 83% of blacks and Hispanics, do not earn a bachelor's degree by age 29. Most who attend community college don't graduate. And without having gained career-focused skills in high schools, many are getting left behind.
It used to be that a high-school diploma was enough to qualify for a job at the local factory that paid wages high enough to buy a home and raise a family. Those days are long gone.
There are still more than 12 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S., down from a high of nearly 20 million in 1979. But most require far more skill than they once did.
A high-school diploma no longer cuts it.
The same is true for many of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, including health care, computer science and the construction trades. Many jobs in those fields don't require a college degree, but they do require technical skills that high-school programs typically don't offer.