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California's Neglected Majority

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

There has been a long held belief that a completed postsecondary education correlated to a greater gross income. Evolving for almost forty years, this “college for all” philosophy created a paradigm that directed parents and educators to encourage high school graduates to enroll in college in pursuit of potential job security, social mobility, and financial prosperity.

Following this philosophy, California’s institutional “One Way to Win” paradigm focuses its efforts towards educating students in preparation for graduating from high school and enrolling directly into a university in pursuit of a degree. But, 31.3% of California’s students do not graduate from high school and are not enrolling directly into any university. Moreover, 54.3% of California high school graduates(n=1,685,560), don't continue on directly into postsecondary education; carrying only whatever life and career readiness skills they may have garnered from high school. California’s “neglected majority” deserves alternatives to the “college prep” curriculum, A-G requirements, and the pervasive “one way to win” mindset/paradigm that is so popular among today’s middle and high schools.

Applying and getting into college isn’t the end goal of high school (at least it shouldn’t be). After all, only 17% of ninth graders graduate from high school and complete a Bachelor's degree within 6 years.

For those that do "make it," far too few start exploring career paths that will utilize the education they had worked so hard to acquire. It is only after they search for employment that many realize their 4-year degree may not have prepared them for entrance into the workforce. The federal departments of education and labor report that there are fifty-seven predicted jobs requiring a four-year degree for every 100 individuals that earns one. This misalignment between awarded degrees and real-world job skills forces 43% of university graduates to be under-employed in what are called “gray collar jobs” - taking positions that neither need or require the education they received; resulting in their earning less than expected and adding the additional burden of affecting their ability to pay down any accrued student loan debt.

We could keep doing what we have been doing. Or we can acknowledge that the university degree is no longer the guaranteed path towards financial success it had been in the days of California’s burgeoning and vibrant economy. And even if a college degree is attained, that education devoid of technical skills, may not be enough.

California, for all its fine efforts, does not adequately prepare the 74% of ninth graders that will directly enter the workforce with work-readiness skills. Since the 1970’s California has stripped most public schools of vocational programs - and where they are present, these career and technical education courses are chronically underfunded today.

Current circumstances show that California should not simply direct our youth to get a 4-year degree in “something” under the false pretenses and unrealistic expectations that it will lead to success. While still valuable in a number of areas, the obtainment of a 4-year degree is no longer the golden ticket to financial success that it was decades ago. Associate Degrees laden with technical skills and industry certifications are the new currency, and a realistic pathway to the restructuring of a new paradigm, in the 21st century.

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