Great jobs

Pearlstein’s latest book attacks the root causes of America’s skills gap.

Education Roads Less Traveled: Solving America’s Fixation on Four-Year Degrees (Rowman & Littlefield) emerged from American Experiment’s major, multi-year initiative called “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree,” which aims to show students and parents there are educational routes to well-paying jobs and fulfilling careers that don’t require a baccalaureate degree. Its efforts have made the Center a nexus for communication among industry, government, educators, students and parents. Its activities include original research, digital journalism, video production and public forums. The initiative is led by Mitch Pearlstein, Senior Policy Fellow Katherine Kersten, and Policy Fellow Catrin Thorman.

Pearlstein admits that without the Great Jobs project there would have been no book. “While I had written several things over the last decade about how too many people mistakenly ignored non-baccalaureate routes to solid middle-class jobs and careers, I wasn’t sufficiently invested in the topic until John Hinderaker asked me to immerse myself in it via the Great Jobs project,” he says.

The idea for the book was born during a chance email exchange two years ago with a former editor, who immediately understood the growing importance of the topic, Pearlstein says. The book’s urgency “is found in the difficulty of picking up a business magazine, or the business section of a newspaper, without reading about how skills gaps in the United States—especially resulting from the retirements of 10,000 Baby Boomers a day— in construction, the trades, and advanced manufacturing are damaging the economy,” he says. “Urgency is likewise found in the great numbers of young people who start at a four-year school only to learn it is not for them. Then, they wind up dropping out, become unemployed or underemployed, and often have big-time college debt, when various non-four-year routes would work far better for them.”

He is fascinated, he says, by universal agreement on the topic. “Never have I pursued a subject in which everybody agreed with me; in this instance, that a four-year degree is not for everyone and that a lot of young people are disserved by cultural, parental, peer, educator, and other pressures and signals,” he says. “I don’t expect to be bathed in such concurrence ever again.”

Pearlstein founded the Center in 1990 and served as its president through 2015. Prior to that role, he worked for two years in the U.S. Department of Education during the Reagan and (first) Bush administrations, where he held three positions, including Director of Outreach for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Before his federal service in Washington, D.C., Pearlstein spent four years as an editorial writer and columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He has published widely.

His books include:

Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future (2014)

From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation (2011)

Riding into the Sunrise: Al Quie and a Life of Faith, Service & Civility (2008)

Close to Home: Celebrations and Critiques of America’s Experiment in Freedom (2000), co-authored with Katherine A. Kersten

The Fatherhood Movement: A Call to Action (1999), co-edited with Wade F. Horn and David Blankenhorn

The Minnesota Policy Blueprint (1999), co-edited with Annette Meeks

Certain Truths: Essays about Our Families, Children and Culture from American Experiment’s First Five Years (1995), editor