The college-for-all model isn't working

Nearly half of those who start a four-year degree don’t finish on time; more than two-thirds of those who start community college fail to get a two-year degree on schedule. Even students who graduate emerge saddled with debt and often without the skills they need to make a decent living.

Meanwhile, companies in a range of sectors — manufacturing, construction, healthcare and other STEM fields — report severe skilled labor shortages. With more than 11.3 million Americans out of work, there are 3.7 million unfilled job openings — due largely to the growing mismatch between workers’ skills and employers’ needs.

The good news: questions about college-for-all have created space for a burgeoning education reform movement that’s rethinking and reshaping the options open to young people preparing for jobs in the middle of the skills ladder — jobs that require more than high school but less than a college degree. Call it “voc ed 2.0” or — today’s term — “career and technical education”: CTE.

Some CTE advocates are still focused on college; they see technical training primarily as a pathway to college. Others are skeptical that the trade-offs can be finessed this easily. They argue for sharper distinctions and harder thinking about priorities. But both camps agree: New, improved technical education is a key piece of the puzzle, and it’s time for the nation to invest in it — big time.