Giving Compass' Take:

• David Cantor reports that as college degrees become increasingly common and decreasingly valuable, prep schools are working to prepare students for employment without college degrees. 

• How can funders help schools develop programs to prepare students for employment?

• Learn more about career and technical education

Public education in the United States changes very slowly — except when it changes fast.

As recently as the mid-1990s, less than one-fifth of women in this country and one-quarter of men held four-year degrees.

Gains in artificial intelligence, computing power, and robotics over the next decade enabled industry to automate tasks in middle-skill and manufacturing jobs that for generations had employed workers with less than four-year degrees, while radically boosting the demand for high levels of education.

In 2009, just 30.6 percent of Americans had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The number climbed to 35.7 percent by 2017, but the rate for black (22.8 percent) and Hispanic Americans (18.5 percent) lagged considerably.

“Given these dismal attainment numbers, a narrowly defined ‘college for all’ goal — one that does not include a much stronger focus on career-oriented programs that lead to occupational credentials — seems doomed to fail,” wrote the authors of an influential 2011 report, Pathways to Prosperity, which argued that schools need to design “a more finely articulated pathways system” that gives students exposure to both work and college while still in high school.

But college remains “our North Star” at the KIPP charter network, said Richard Buery, KIPP’s chief of policy and public affairs.

The network, which operates more than 220 schools educating nearly 100,000 students across the country, has a reputation for closely supporting students as they select and attend colleges. Seventy-eight percent of students who complete 8th grade at KIPP go onto college, and 45 percent graduate within six years, a rate that easily exceeds the national average, especially given the network’s traditionally low-income student population.

“That’s high unless you’re one of the 55 percent of students” who don’t graduate, he said.

Buery acknowledged that KIPP had also begun to build better supports for students moving directly into careers, including closer analysis of labor markets in cities where the schools are located.

Read the full article about prepare students for employment by David Cantor at The 74.