More than 3 million teenagers are expected to graduate from high school over the next six weeks. For most of them, their choices are stark: Either find a job or enter college.
But there's no reason for students to view their career paths in such extremes as working at McDonald's or attending Harvard, says Anthony Carnevale, director and research professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Every year, the U.S. economy offers roughly 29 million "middle jobs," as Carnevale calls them: positions that demand some additional schooling or certification beyond the 12th grade, but not the time or financial commitment of a bachelor's degree.
These jobs are in industries as diverse as health care, information technology, the arts, sales, food service, management, and skilled manufacturing. Middle jobs pay an average of $35,000, although more than 11 million of them provide a salary of $50,000 or more annually, according to research by the Center on Education and the Workforce. (The Census Bureau lists the current median salary in the U.S. at $51,017.)
Most important, these jobs offer non-college-bound kids the chance of a decent economic life. That's a particularly important caveat, because those with just a high-school diploma increasingly find themselves stuck in dead-end jobs and shut out of the middle class. "What we're missing now is an alternative pathway for people who don't go to college," Carnevale says. "We know that applied curriculums work better, not just for less-prepared students but for everyone."