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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Rethinking Pathways to Prosperity

By Charles Sahm
Across the political spectrum, there is wide agreement that strengthening career and technical education is key to improving economic and social mobility. Still, in these polarized, hyperpartisan times, it seems far-fetched that Congress could pass a thoughtful, bipartisan piece of legislation that would help young people place their feet on the ladder to economic prosperity. But as Congress returns from recess next week just such a bill is awaiting a vote.

The legislation, titled the "Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act," modernizes and reforms the Carl D. Perkins Act, which has funded career and technical education programs since 1984. It emerged from the House Education Committee via a unanimous 37 to 0 vote in June.

Like the recent reauthorization of the federal government's main education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Perkins reauthorization gives more discretion to the states. It doesn't seek to micromanage policy but rather requires states to measure and report certain targeted outcomes. The new law also incentivizes stronger engagement with employers, the utilization of "work-based learning" and programs that lead to attainment of "recognized postsecondary credentials" …

The best, most secure jobs of the 21st century will require some sort of post-secondary degree or industry-recognized credential. But that doesn't mean that every student need go directly from high school to a four-year college. It's time to rethink some of our rigid views around higher education in the United States. Other nations with higher mobility rates tend to make more use of apprenticeships and technical education.

If passed, the new Perkins Act would be a small but important step toward making sure that students get on the pathway to prosperity that's right for them.

To read the full op-ed, click here.

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