Report Calls for National Effort to Help Youth Navigate Path to Employability

Despite billions of dollars spent on education reform efforts over several decades, American high schools and colleges are failing to prepare millions of the county's young people to lead successful lives, a new study from the Pathways to Prosperity Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education finds.

The report, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century (52 pages, PDF), argues that the nation's strategy for education and youth development has been too narrowly focused on an academic, classroom-based approach, which in turn has produced only incremental gains in achievement and attainment.

To remedy the situation, the authors recommend the development of a broader school reform effort that embraces multiple pathways to help young people successfully navigate their personal development. According to the report, only 30 percent of young adults successfully complete the preferred pathway to success — attending and graduating from a four-year college. The report further argues that American employers need to play a greatly expanded role in supporting the pathways system and providing additional opportunities for young adults to participate in work-based learning related to their programs of study, and that the nation needs to develop a new social compact in which every young adult will be equipped by their mid-20s with the education and experience needed to lead a successful life as an adult.

Supported by Accenture, and the DeVry, GE, Pearson, Irvine, Kellogg, and Nellie Mae Education foundations, the two-year study found that the percentage of teens and young adults with full-time jobs is at its lowest level since the end of World War II.

"We are the only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help young people transition from secondary school to careers, and from adolescence to adulthood," said Robert Schwartz, academic dean and professor at HGSE, who heads the Pathways to Prosperity Project. "Unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation."