career pathways

Changing the Narrative of Non-Degree Pathways

Read how changing the language surrounding non-degree pathways can support an entire skills-first movement.

In the realm of post-secondary education, the language we use matters. "Non-degree" pathways and "alternative" routes are more than just words; they connote outlier opportunities that jeopardize equitable access to fulfilling careers. Despite the abundant opportunities community colleges, work-based learning or certification pathways offer, these options remain under-prioritized in traditional K-12 settings. This oversight can stem from biases, lack of awareness, or insufficient career discovery resources.

The Reality of Non-Degree Pathways

Did you know that a staggering 71% of the most in-demand skilled careers will require a credential education from community or technical colleges in the next five years? These are lucrative jobs that can kickstart one's career right out of high school, with starting salaries of $60,000 or more. However, over 20 million youth will be graduating high school over this same time period. Half - mostly minority - will end up on low wage jobs. Why? Because 75% of youth are unaware of these pathways. This lack of exposure isn't just a gross disservice to our under-resourced youth and communities—it comes with a hefty price tag. The US loses an estimated $13 billion each month in lost productivity and recruitment expenses due to this underutilization of skilled pathways.

Limited exposure, societal pressure, and misconceptions about fulfilling job prospects all contribute to the lack of awareness surrounding these pathways, perpetuating the stigma that they are inferior options. 

Data Speaks Volumes

According to recent surveys conducted by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and American Student Assistance (ASA), there is overwhelming support for non-degree pathways. These statistics underscore the urgent need - and opportunity - to prioritize non-degree pathways and ensure that every individual has the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling and prosperous career.

  • 81% of employers agree that their organizations should hire based on skills rather than degrees.
  • 72% of employers believe that a degree is not a reliable indicator of a candidate's quality.
  • 96% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats agree that employers should prioritize skills over degrees.
  • Among youth, 74% express a desire to build skills that lead to good jobs, while 71% believe that high schools could do more to help students understand non-four-year-degree pathways.

Changing the Narrative

To effectively close social capital and knowledge gaps we need to challenge the status quo. We must reframe non-degree pathways as viable and valuable alternatives to traditional four-year colleges. By shifting our language, unfurling our brows, and highlighting the unique benefits and opportunities for success offered by these pathways, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their future without feeding a Plan B mindset.

Education and Outreach

Comprehensive career counseling and outreach programs are essential investments to ensure that all young people are aware of the full spectrum of post-secondary options available to them. Sharing success stories of individuals who have thrived through non-degree pathways can inspire others to explore these options and pursue their passions.

Collaboration is Key

Industry partnerships remain crucial in developing relevant training programs and apprenticeships that equip students with the skills needed to excel in today's workforce. By aligning educational offerings with rapidly evolving industry demands, we can ensure that our workforce remains competitive and resilient.

Embracing Diversity in Education

It's time to embrace the diversity of post-secondary education and ensure that every individual has the opportunity to reach their full potential. We must advocate for a more agnostic post-secondary narrative that recognizes the value of non-degree pathways in preparing students for successful careers.

Join the Movement

Join the conversation by sharing this blog and advocating for the importance of a more inclusive and equitable post-secondary education vernacular. Together, we can dismantle stigma and pave the way for a brighter future for all.

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