Higher education is not providing the job preparation we need.
American society has granted its institutions of higher learning an aura of nobility that, when it comes to knowledge creation at least, would seem earned. But we have also entrusted them with building the bridge for our youth from high school to productive participation in the work force, and at this they are failing. Fewer than half of enrollees complete a degree and then end up in a job that requires it. At community colleges, less than one full-time student in five achieves a two-year degree after even three years.
For many — perhaps even most — Americans, a different set of institutions is better suited to provide the kind of “post-secondary” (after high school) training that will prepare them for good jobs through which they can support families and communities: private-sector employers.
The centrality of employers to effective job training is now understood across the political spectrum. Answering the question “Why Is the U.S. So Bad at Worker Retraining?,” The Atlantic summarized the view of scholars that federal programs have been “too divorced from employers’ needs, too unrelated to workers’ interests, too light-touch, and too limited in their reach, among other flaws.” According to a bipartisan group convened by Opportunity America, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Brookings Institution, “Employers, educators, scholars and policymakers agree: there can be no effective career education without employers. . . . That’s the only way to ensure that students are learning skills in demand in today’s job market.”
Oren Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The Once and Future Worker.” This piece is based on his new report, “The Workforce-Training Grant: A New Bridge from High School to Career.” Follow him on Twitter here.