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Report: Expand Support of Training for 'Middle Jobs'

A new report calls for federal investment in training for jobs that require education beyond high school, but short of a bachelor's degree, calling such jobs a crucial ticket to a middle-class life.

The study, released today by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, mines a territory that's drawing increasing amounts of attention: the swath of the education landscape that begins with a high school diploma and stops short of a four-year college degree.

Lead author Anthony P. Carnevale, who's been exploring these issues for quite a long time, urges federal investments in career-technical education that opens pathways to postsecondary education and jobs. He also urges creation of an information system that would link high school and post-high-school transcripts with employer wage records, to show various programs' success at "producing job-ready graduates."

Carnevale and co-authors Tamara Jayasundera and Andrew R. Hanson argue that earning a bachelor's degree is still the surest way to well-compensated jobs. But for the many who don't reach that point, however, the career-and- technical-education system is an "underutilized" route to middle-class wages, they argue. They note that in the past few decades, shifts in the American economy offer less and less to those with only a high school diploma.

The authors define "middle jobs" as those requiring more education than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree, and that pay at least $35,000 per year. Twenty-nine million—21 percent—of the economy's 139 million jobs are middle jobs, the report says, and two-fifths of them pay more than $50,000 per year.

Most middle jobs are reached through five key "pathways:" employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, postsecondary certificates, and associate's degrees. Of the $524 billion spent annually on training for these five pathways, by far the most is spent on employer-based training, both on-the-job and in the form of formal courses.

Heavier investments in CTE programs that connect high school with higher education and employer-based training, with the goal of postsecondary certificates, industry-recognized credentials, or college degrees, could expand opportunities for both jobs and education, the report argues.

Creating a database that links high school and postsecondary transcript information with information about jobs and wages would help students understand what kinds of jobs are in demand, and what is required to qualify for those jobs, the study says. It would also guide educators in shaping appropriate programs, and help employers find suitable employees, it says.

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