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Beyond College For All

Career Paths for the Forgotten Half

James E. Rosenbaum

Publication Year: 2001

In a society where everyone is supposed to go to college, the problems facing high school graduates who do not continue their education are often forgotten. Many cannot find jobs, and those who do are often stuck in low-wage, dead-end positions. Meanwhile employers complain that high school graduates lack the necessary skills for today's workplace. Beyond College for All focuses on this crisis in the American labor market. Around the world, author James E. Rosenbaum finds, employers view high school graduates as valuable workers. Why not here? Rosenbaum reports on new studies of the interaction between employers and high schools in the United States. He concludes that each fails to communicate its needs to the other, leading to a predictable array of problems for young people in the years after graduation. High schools caught up in the college-for-all myth, provide little job advice or preparation, leading students to make unrealistic plans and hampering both students who do not go to college and those who start college but do not finish. Employers say they care about academic skills, but then do not consider grades when deciding whom to hire. Faced with few incentives to achieve, many students lapse into precisely the kinds of habits employers deplore, doing as little as possible in high school and developing poor attitudes. Rosenbaum contrasts the situation in the United States with that of two other industrialized nations-Japan and Germany-which have formal systems for aiding young people who are looking for employment. Virtually all Japanese high school graduates obtain work, and in Germany, eighteen-year-olds routinely hold responsible jobs. While the American system lacks such formal linkages, Rosenbaum uncovers an encouraging hidden system that helps many high school graduates find work. He shows that some American teachers, particularly vocational teachers, create informal networks with employers to guide students into the labor market. Enterprising employers have figures out how to use these networks to meet their labor needs, while students themselves can take steps to increase their ability to land desirable jobs. Beyond College for All suggests new policies based on such practices. Rosenbaum presents a compelling case that the problems faced by American high school graduates and employers can be solved if young people, employers, and high schools build upon existing informal networks to create formal paths for students to enter the world of work.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: American Sociological Association Rose Series

Title page, Copyright

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The Rose Series in Sociology

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pp. vii-viii

About the Author

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

We assume that we already know the basic processes by which American society operates. As participants, we have lived through it ourselves, and, as scholars, we have read many studies. Yet, although we do not realize it, we have blinders. Comparative research can help us see beyond our blinders, to see processes that we never imagined....

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Chapter 1. Pathways to Adulthood: Reversing the Downward Spiral of the Youth Labor Market

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pp. 1-23

A crisis is emerging in the American labor market. Young people who do not get college degrees have been called the “forgotten half” because society offers them no way to enter adult roles (Howe 1988). They either experience enormous difficulty getting jobs or take dead-end jobs that offer low status, little training, and pay too low to support a family (Osterman 1980; Althauser and...

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Chapter 2. Market and Network Theories of the High School–to–Work Transition

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pp. 24-54

The transition from high school to work has attracted concern because of youths’ great difficulties in making this transition.1 Many high school graduates spend their first years after school unemployed or job hopping, with consequent loss of training and productivity. Work-bound youths also have great problems in school that may be related to their anticipated problems entering work....

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Chapter 3. College for All: Do Students Understand What College Demands?

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pp. 55-87

In beginning a study of the high school–to–work transition, we must first establish whether high school is still an important institution for affecting work entry. For much of this century, most people entered the labor market directly after high school, but there has been an astounding growth in college enrollment in recent decades. If nearly all students are planning to attend college, then high...

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Chapter 4. Gatekeeping in an Era of More Open Gates: High School Counselors’ Views of Their Influence on Students’ College Plans

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pp. 88-107

Sociological research has provided a clear picture of the ways in which counselors channel students’ educational destinies.1 Focusing on the ways in which counselors influence which students attend college (Cicourel and Kitsuse 1963; Schafer and Olexa 1971; Rosenbaum 1976), studies have given sociology the model of counselors as active “social selectors” for colleges, a role in which...

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Chapter 5. Do Employers Need More Educated Youth?

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pp. 108-131

One of the great policy questions of the 1990s is how to increase youths’ skills to meet the needs of today’s workplaces.1 National blue-ribbon panels write about the academic skill needs of the workplace while complaining of youths’ poor academic skills (CED 1985; NAS 1984; NCEE 1990). Business leaders give wellpublicized speeches in which they place much of the blame for inadequate...

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Chapter 6. Hiring in a Hobbesian World: Social Infrastructure and Employers’ Use of Information

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pp. 132-152

Having shown that employers actually do need academic skills, we are still left with the puzzle of why they ignore school information in their hiring decisions.1 Indeed, we know very little about how employers view various information sources and why they use some sources of information and not others....

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Chapter 7. Ships Passing in the Night: The Sociological Foundations of Economic Transactions

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pp. 153-169

Functionalist theories assume that various parts of society interact to serve their mutual needs and the needs of society.1 For instance, sociological functionalism assumes that schools socialize and select youth for employers, and consequently that employers will come to them for hiring youth. Even some critics who reject the conservative premises of functionalism concur that schools serve employers...

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Chapter 8. Are Noncognitive Behaviors in School Related to Later Life Outcomes?

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pp. 170-192

As we have seen in the previous chapters, employers place a high priority on noncognitive behaviors—such as work habits (NCEQW 1994)—that they have great difficulty inferring from available information (Bishop 1993).1 However, employers doubt that students’ behaviors in school are relevant to the work setting (chapter 6). Many employers dismiss school grades as merely indicating...

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Chapter 9. Pathways into Work: Short- and Long-Term Effects of Personal and Institutional Ties

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pp. 193-216

The central focus of this book has been to understand why students face great difficulties in gaining recognition of their value in the labor market.1 New high school graduates have difficulty getting jobs that offer better pay or advancement, and their jobs and pay tend to be unrelated to their school achievements (Bills 1992; Crain 1984; Parcel 1987; Grubb 1992; Jencks et al. 1979, 117;...

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Chapter 10. Hidden Links: Teachers’ Social Construction of Employer Linkages

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pp. 217-240

Chapter 9 reported that high schools help students get jobs, and that this assistance leads to better long-term earnings outcomes. But the data behind this finding do not tell us how this happens.1 Theory sometimes explains processes, but not in this case. Functionalist theories assume that schools and labor markets are mutually...

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Chapter 11. Theoretical Implications: Using Institutional Linkages to Signal and Enhance Youths’ Capabilities

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pp. 241-264

All societies initiate young people into adulthood (Parsons 1959). They provide ways for youths to attain adult status and recognition of their productive value, and they give employers ways to know which individuals are ready to be productive. In simpler societies, youths are awarded adult status through initiation ceremonies that signal to all members of the society that they can...

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Chapter 12. Policy Implications: Career Paths for the Forgotten Half

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pp. 265-282

Despite enormous changes in employment circumstances and college opportunities over the past several decades, young people continue to have work-entry problems. Although a strong labor market reduces unemployment, a strong labor market does not last forever, solve employers’ skill shortages, or give unskilled youths good jobs, particularly if they lack the soft skills that...


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pp. 283-289


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pp. 291-314


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pp. 315-323

E-ISBN-13: 9781610444767
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871547279
Print-ISBN-10: 0871547279

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: American Sociological Association Rose Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Occupational training -- United States.
  • Labor market -- United States.
  • Vocational education -- United States.
  • School-to-work transition -- United States.
  • Youth -- Employment -- United States.
  • High school graduates -- Employment -- United States.
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