Four-year college is not for everyone. We need to make more pathways available to students

Growing up, every child wanted to play as a quarterback. But as a football coach, it’s your job to make sure the other positions are filled in a way that maximizes each player’s abilities and, collectively, the team’s. A lot of students may not want to play offensive lineman at first — until they realize that they actually thrive at the position and that without them, the team falls apart.

A team full of only quarterbacks is dysfunctional. To push players exclusively to pursue one position does the players, and ultimately the team, a disservice.

Right now, our education system is essentially offering only the “quarterback” path when it pushes students to pursue a four-year college degree. That’s a problem because a traditional four-year college is not the best fit for every single student. Boxing students into one path for higher education leaves many quality jobs unfilled.

The reality is that there are multiple viable pathways available to students pursuing a higher education degree or credential. Dual enrollment programs, career and technical education, apprenticeships, and other learning opportunities can provide students with important skills that lead to good jobs and fulfilling careers.

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We shouldn’t be afraid to admit that a four-year residential college may not be the best fit for every student. Many students would prefer to work with their hands rather than sit through long lectures. Other students may not want to take out mountains of debt in loans to pay for a degree that may not actually lead to sustainable employment.

Our great country is paying a price for this top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.

While the pandemic has certainly placed enormous strain on workers and businesses alike, the skills gap existed even when the economy was roaring. In January 2020, there were still nearly 7 million unfilled jobs in the United States because there were not enough skilled workers to fill them. This was at a time when we had record-low unemployment and record-high workforce participation.


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