Bipartisan Support for Career and Technical Education Can Buttress Nation's Future Strength
Postsecondary education has always been about more than just four-year degrees. The time has come for the United States to make education beyond high school for all a reality and expectation.
This week’s bipartisan action by the House Education and Workforce Committee makes clear that policymakers across the political spectrum see helping more Americans gain access to high-quality learning opportunities of all types after high school as an urgent priority. Experts and researchers consistently agree that federal support through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is a vital part of ensuring those learning opportunities.
Lumina Foundation recently charted a course that, in addition to increasing access to and completion of college degrees, places greater emphasis on creating a system that helps people earn workforce certificates, industry certifications and other credentials of value that prepare them for success in a global society. Lumina focuses on ensuring that, by 2025, at least 60 percent of working-age Americans have the benefits that come from having high-quality credentials beyond high school diplomas.
To be clear, this does not mean every person must have the same type of credential or learning experience. There is a need for multiple pathways to meaningful credentials. Some lead to degrees while others may lead to certificates, licenses, or apprenticeships along a pathway to further education. Career and technical education create multiple pathways to these kinds of meaningful credentials.
A priority nationally should be to increase the numbers of adults who haven’t gone beyond high school who earn postsecondary credentials that position them for success in work and life. There is an imperative to assure equitable outcomes for these adults and career and technical education can provide meaningful on-ramps.
As access to career and technical education programs grows, policymakers and educators alike must work to ensure the credentials provided through these programs create strong pathways to other work and learning opportunities. We must not inadvertently create or exacerbate a two-tiered system with lower-quality default credentials going only or predominantly to members of traditionally underserved groups of individuals. Every person deserves the benefits that come from learning that continues beyond high school. Robust and sensible policies at every level, such as the Perkins Act, can and should make this a reality.
As a nation, we must support policies and practices aimed at redesigning how the country provides learning beyond high school to give all people—regardless of race and ethnicity, income level, and other socioeconomic factors—the meaningful opportunities they want and deserve. Our shared future depends on how successfully we create these opportunities. Bringing the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in line with labor-market demands can only bolster this commitment.