Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

It is increasingly clear that Southeast Michigan’s economic revival is being driven by jobs in the “knowledge economy.”

Lou Glazer and Don Grimes, in a related report, point out that from 1990 to 2012 U.S. job growth climbed 34 percent for high-education industries and 14 percent for low-education industries.  They argue that as Michigan continues to reinvent itself, we should look to states like Minnesota, where higher educational attainment, particular bachelor’s degrees or higher, means better pay and more jobs than places like Alabama and Michigan.

StatePer capita income (2010)Bachelor degree (or more)Unemployment (2011)
United States$39,93728.1%8.9%

Tony Carnevale, a Georgetown University labor economist, reinforces Glazer and Grimes, stressing the importance of the bachelor’s degree:  From 2007 to 2012, he points out that, nationwide, unemployment for those with a bachelor’s degree was around 4.5 percent, compared with 9.4 percent for those with a high school diploma.  He adds that:

  • workers with a high school diploma or less bore the brunt of the recession’s job losses,
  • recovery in employment for the last two decades has been led almost entirely to a rise in college-educated workers, and
  • earnings for those with a BA or better earn nearly twice that of high-school educated workers.

The result of all this very convincing evidence is a push to encourage more young people to get on the college track.  This makes some parents and educators — major influencers of young people — reluctant to encourage a career and technical education (CTE) track over a college prep track, even though there is broad acknowledgement that college is not for everyone.

The good news, as we are reminded by our friends from Austin-based Civic Analytics, is that the choice between college and career-tech is a false one:  They note, “[Programs like CTE] can provide an alternative path to a successful future, and therefore should be invested in and offered alongside curriculum that focuses on preparing students for university admission.”

They remind us of students who question the value of learning mathematical concepts in the abstract until they see the application of those principles first hand, perhaps as they design a robot, plan a patient’s care, or program a computer in class. There also are those students who may benefit from learning a skill and gaining experience early on:  I know more than one who has chosen a CTE path in high school, learning machining techniques, and who will work their way through their four-year engineering degree, earning a wage that will help them graduate debt free.

This “multiple pathways” approach is critical for keeping engaged those applied learners and “latent intellectuals” who may not realize their real interests until they have experienced them.  Forcing a choice too early in the process may alienate some from choosing a college pathway altogether:  When asking young people to consider college versus a technical education path, we should encourage (and align our public investments to allow) them to choose both.

Share On