In a recent speech on U.S. Department of Education (ED) priorities for the upcoming year, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called for the education sector – and high schools in particular – to raise the bar on career success.

“Our Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 system and college systems are disconnected,” the secretary stated, invoking a need for “reimagining college and career pathways.”

Sec. Cardona mentioned ED’s “Raise the Bar: Unlocking Career Success” initiative as one route towards doing so. The initiative aims to provide stronger connections between K-12 education, postsecondary education and the workforce via new pathways such as high-quality training programs.

Notably, Sec. Cardona said the initiative – which was launched with the First Lady and Secretaries of Labor and Commerce in November 2022 but has yet to be rolled out – “will include very specific plans on how our high schools should be evolved to meet the career and college pathways of today and tomorrow.” 

There’s long been a disconnect between K-12 education, postsecondary education and workforce preparation in the U.S. According to a recent nationally representative survey, Americans no longer consider college and university preparation anywhere close to a top purpose of K-12 education – but rank career preparation sixth. At the same time, increasing numbers of Americans are questioning the value of a college degree. Employers report they do not believe most college graduates possess the skills needed to succeed in the workforce, even as state governments such as Pennsylvania have followed in the footsteps of some Fortune 500 companies and eliminated job degree requirements for many of their positions. 

Yet many high schools continue to offer narrow pathways forward for students, focused either on college enrollment or limited career and technical training paths. The secretary’s statements mark a national shift towards reimagining what it looks like at the secondary level to prepare students for 21st century success.

(Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock)