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On beyond high school (21st century skills)

Fewer rote tasks, more automation, more independent thinking…the changes in the 21st century workplace are requiring students to continue on beyond high school if they want to succeed. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that two out of three jobs created between 2006 and 2015 will require education or training beyond a high school diploma.

Lower-wage service jobs will increase as well, including elder-care workers for the aging members of the Baby Boom generation. But high-wage work will increasingly require more education. College graduates, in other words, can expect to continue to earn good salaries, while workers who haven’t gone to college will have far fewer chances to earn a living wage.

The health care and technology sectors are projected to add the most new jobs (1.4 million), while computer and math jobs are expected to grow the most quickly—at a rate of nearly 25 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified the top five occupations expected to grow the most quickly. The top five are:

  1. Network systems and data communications analysts
  2. Personal and home care aides
  3. Home health aides
  4. Computer software engineers, applications
  5. Personal financial advisors

The link between income and education is clear. What’s called the college wage premium—that is, how much more money people with college educations earn—increased by 25 percent between 1980 and 2005, according to Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. The rate of return for each year of college education now stands at about 13 to 14 percent.

The result is a growing income gap. Between 1967 and 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reports, the annual income of the wealthiest American families nearly doubled, while the earnings of the poorest grew very little.

“The failure of educational attainment to keep up with technology-driven skill demands has been a major factor behind the massive surge in income inequality over the past several decades,” say Goldin and Katz in their 2007 book The Race Between Education and Technology. “In the early 20th century, we created almost universal access to high school. We have not done the same with college.”

Even so, says Katz, “there has been much more growth of inequality among college graduates than among noncollege workers. … Only some people are coming out of college with the high-level reasoning skills” needed to succeed.

So while a college diploma may become increasingly necessary, what makes the difference is still the skills and knowledge that diploma represents. Exactly what those skills are will be discussed next.

For more, see "Educational Attainment" in the full report, Defining a 21st century education .


This summary was based on a work by Craig D. Jerald. Craig D. Jerald is president of Break the Curve Consulting, specializing in education policy, communications, research, and practice. Previously, Craig was a Principal Partner at the Education Trust, where he worked on issues related to teacher quality, accountability, federal education policy, and the practices of high-performing schools and districts. Craig was also a Senior Editor at Education Week, where he founded and managed the organization’s research division and helped create Ed Week’s special annual reports series, Quality Counts and Technology Counts.


Posted: September 21, 2009


©2009 Center for Public Education

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