As college drop-out rates rise and young adult unemployment reaches levels unseen since the Great Depression, a growing consensus of business and academic leaders are asking whether a traditional four-year college education is always the best path to a successful career. The mission of the Pathways to Prosperity Project at Harvard Graduate School of Education is to get this question out in the open—and encourage Americans to explore new approaches to education reform that offer multiple paths to career fulfillment.

This question was explored at the October 11th NEF symposium, “Expanding the Dialogue: What Do Kids Need to Succeed in the 21st Century?,” the first in the 2011–2012 NEF Community Education Series.

Featuring a panel discussion including Needham Public Schools superintendent Dr. Daniel Gutekanst and keynote address by Pathways to Prosperity director William Symonds, “Expanding the Dialogue” encourages discussion of why our existing education model fails to prepare many young adults for the workforce. In a more promising vein, it invites the audience to consider alternative ways to better prepare our kids to make a smooth transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Says Symonds: “Going to college for four years is not the best answer for all young people. We need to provide other pathways for them to succeed. I’ve spoken with parents a few years after their children graduated from college, and many of those students are struggling. These parents have a growing sense that going to a four year college doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in today’s economy.”

In addition to Dr. Gutekanst, symposium panelists include Dr. Edward A. Bouquillon, Superintendent, Minuteman Career and Technical High School and Patricia Eagan, Senior Staff Consultant, Verizon State Government Relations and Board Member, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.