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In State of the Union, Closer Ties Between Education, Job Readiness


THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.  FEBRUARY 13, 2013.  The themes of job creation and the growth of a strong middle class took center stage in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. But as he acknowledged, the jobs that will help young Americans enter or remain in the middle class will require new sets of skills than those of their parents.

Training for those jobs should begin “at the earliest possible age,” he said. He vowed that hisadministration would work with states to ensure that all children have access to high-quality preschool.

As the Wall Street Journal noted last year, kids without preschool access have been shown to be more likely to get special-needs services, be held back a grade or two, get in trouble with the law and become teen parents, while those who go to preschool are more likely to go on to college, receive graduate educations, and enjoy higher income levels.

The president also proposed “a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”  He urged schools to develop partnerships with colleges and employers, and to focus on the so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math.

While those partnerships are common among community colleges and employers, particularly when it comes to filling high-tech manufacturing jobs, there are fewer of them at the high school level. One school that President Obama highlighted, Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech, is a partnership between IBM’s charitable arm, the local school district and the City University of New York.

Finally, the president added his voice to the many calls for colleges and universities to prove their return on investment. On Wednesday, his administration followed the example of some states by launching a website called “College Scorecard” for parents and students “to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” as Obama said.

Colleges themselves, even those that are focused on liberal arts education, realize they need to do a better job of making the economic case for high tuition and fees, in terms of students’ job prospects. As the Wall Street Journal noted last year, they aremaking career preparation a more central element of their missions by adding classes, programs and counseling designed to do a better job of fitting their graduates into a rapidly changing economy and job market. But this process is not without friction.

As an administrator at Clark University told the Journal in 2012, “Professors do not want us to suddenly become a vocational school.”