The United States spends over $400 billion a year on postsecondary education. By most measures, the country is not getting a good return on this investment. Too many U.S. students emerge from our secondary and postsecondary educational institutions without the knowledge, skills, or credentials necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century’s increasingly global and technology-based jobs market.
As the world’s labor markets evolve, so do the demands on its educational systems. This paper describes the nature of the challenges we are facing and highlights current innovations and models—around the world and in the U.S.—that suggest how a new system of well-designed career pathways could address more effectively the demand-side needs of employers and the supply-side needs of individual workers.
At the core of such a system are portable and stackable credentials that enable students of all ages to build careers with family-sustaining, middle class incomes. In such a system, students have the opportunity to both learn and earn by acquiring shorter term credentials with clear labor market value even as they continue to build on these to access more advanced jobs and higher wages. And employers, educational institutions, and students can have confidence that the credentials they are working towards are recognized across the country and perhaps even around the world.