For the last 70 years, the primary vehicle of social mobility in America has been access to college. We invest a great deal of faith in the promise of college to create economic opportunity, create better, more informed citizens and build democratic communities. The nation has made great progress in expanding access to higher education. But nevertheless, only a third of American adults in the workforce enjoy the benefits of a four year college degree. A four year diploma is a baseline requirement for most stable, well compensated career laddered jobs in the United States. Possession of a four year college degree also is related to longevity, general health and wellbeing, relational happiness. So there are reasons why it is important that college continue to be a policy goal in the United States.
But we also must consider that we are living longer than ever. Almost half of five-year-olds alive today will live to 100. It stands to reason that the longer we live, the longer we’ll work. Working throughout the lifespan requires different knowledge and skills, and different ways of acquiring said knowledge and skills. In addition to creating new ways of learning and tools for learning, we need a serious social science of educational transitions and basic information about what kinds of programs work for what kinds of individuals.