College Is Not the Only Answer: 7 Policy Recommendations to Help Youth Succeed

Lammers: Today, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating the education-to-career pathway. Students must be aware of all viable pathways.

This is a photo of a student in vocational school being trained on car mechanics by her instructor.

Help fund stories like this. Donate now!

For generations, young people have been told that college is the only path to success. Yet, research shows that both students and employers are open to skills-based nondegree pathways, such as certificate programs, career training and apprenticeships. Unfortunately, most students aren’t aware of or don’t have access to these options, and employers have largely not embraced workers who lack degrees. These diverse education-to-career alternatives will struggle to gain traction if policymakers don’t provide supportive legislation and funding. 

To better understand policymakers’ perceptions of support for and willingness to federally fund non-degree pathways, American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future commissioned a report, Non-Degree Pathways: A D.C. Insider’s Perspective, based on a poll of a diverse and select group of 156 policy influencers working in Washington, D.C. The vast majority — 93% of those polled — agree that nondegree pathways can lead to rewarding, successful careers, and 89% believe that vocational schools, certificate programs and other options can provide students with skills that will meet employers’ needs. Moreover, 89% of those polled want legislation to help these alternative approaches expand over the next five years, and 78% want to see a boost in federal funding for them.

I believe this can and must happen, but it won’t without support from elected officials. Here are seven recommendations for policymakers to make this a reality. 

  1. Expand Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning Opportunities 

Congress must reauthorize The National Apprenticeship Act to reflect current economic realities and employer needs, and to increase these opportunities. This includes targeting funding for the expansion of youth apprenticeships, so high school students — including those who face barriers to employment — can test out various hands-on experiences in different industries. 

  1. Encourage Career Readiness as a Core Component of K-12 Accountability 

Federal policymakers should encourage and support states in adjusting their high school accountability standards and metrics by embracing career readiness as a core goal and expanding definitions of school success beyond test scores and college enrollment metrics. Skills acquisition should be core to K-12 education.

  1. Strengthen Student Supports
    Policymakers should provide guidance, technical assistance and funding to high schools to help every student develop a career path before graduation. This should include expanded use of technology-enabled career navigation tools and counselors who can provide information students need to make informed choices about the path that’s right for them.
  2. Improve Career Navigation and Access to Data 

Legislative policy should encourage the expansion of career navigation services so they are available to all young people. There is also a need for transparent data systems that encourage sharing across platforms and provide easy-to-understand information on the quality of education and training programs.

  1. Increase Investment in Nondegree Pathways

Federal funding should be allocated to create more awareness and acceptance of nondegree pathways. These include vocational schools that allow young people to thrive in jobs such as in manufacturing and skilled trades that keep the economy running.

  1. Invest in Grants to Spur Innovation 

The federal government should create a grants program to incentivize innovative strategies around non-degree pathways, evaluate their effectiveness and communicate best practices that best support both student success and employer needs.

  1. Promote Skills Building 

Policymakers should ensure that all federal laws impacting youth, older adolescents and adults stress the importance of continued skills-building. The secretaries of education, labor and commerce must work together to ensure the federal government plays a strong and coordinated role in building the future workforce and spurring employers to take action. 

To ensure that all Americans have equitable opportunities and economic mobility, good-paying jobs and financial stability, lawmakers must craft and adopt policies that champion postsecondary pathways as diverse as the workers who make up America’s 21st century workforce. Today, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating the education-to-career pathway. College has become the country’s default, but students need to be aware of all viable pathways to success. It is incumbent upon legislators, educators, employers, parents and students themselves to embrace and support an array of career options that will bring all young people success.

Help fund stories like this. Donate now!

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today