Schooling in the Workplace cover imageIn February, the “college-for-all” movement was
dealt a mighty blow with the publication of Harvard GSE’s Pathways
to Prosperity
report. This new book from Nancy Hoffman, VP of Jobs for
the Future, offers yet another forceful whack. (Insider power-couple scoop: Ms.
Hoffman is married to a lead author of Pathways.)
Though a seemingly admirable crusade, she contends, “college for all” is ill-advised
for a country interested in having an “appropriately skilled and employed
workforce.” (It’s also an anomalous goal, not shared by other countries.) As Hoffman
explains, unemployment rates currently soar, even as employers complain of
difficulty finding candidates with the right skill set. Americans have often
shied away from promoting Vocational Education and Training (VET) programming,
viewing it as classist, even elitist—a system that perpetuates social and
fiscal disparities. However, strong VET initiatives in other nations are
redefining post-secondary options for students. These programs are thoughtful,
rigorous pathways to careers—no longer the “throwaway” tracks for the least
effective students. And they seem to be effective: In Switzerland, 42 percent
of students attaining the highest scores on the PISA exam chose VET enrollment.
High-performing Australia enrolls about 60 percent of its eleventh- and
twelfth-year students in VET programs. Through six case studies, Hoffman
articulates lessons for America as we think through expanding our own
work-based learning programs. The biggest: Ensure constant employer
participation in curricula and certification development and in apprenticeship
placements. For those ready
to revisit the “college-for-all” mandate
, this book provides a useful
starting point.

Nancy Hoffman, Schooling
in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems
Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life
(Harvard Education Press,
Cambridge, MA, 2011).

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