The future of work

Acclaimed author to kick off the Center’s Alternative Education Project

Nicholas Eberstadt, author of the acclaimed and important new book Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis, will keynote on April 19 the official kick-off of Center of the American Experiment’s new multi-year project to help young men and women win good-paying jobs and solid middle-class careers without a four-year college degree.

The project, Overlooked Educational Routes to Great Careers, likewise, will increase the chances that Minnesota employers will be able to find and hire sufficient numbers of employees with first-tier technical skills so their businesses can thrive and remain in the state. Finding enough expertly trained people is frequently not the case now, especially with Baby Boomers retiring in huge numbers.

Eberstadt is the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Financial Times said of Men Without Work, “Eberstadt has put his finger on what may be the most important socioeconomic question the US will face over the next quarter-century.”

The event will be 4:30 p.m., April 19, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. A reception will follow

In laying groundwork for the initiative, the project’s director, American Experiment Founder Mitch Pearlstein, along with President John Hinderaker and Senior Fellow Katherine Kersten, have met with scores of business and labor leaders, educators, office-holders, and others, with their responses, according to Pearlstein, “overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”

The venture is grounded in the belief that American colleges and universities are the envy of the world, and nothing anyone at the Center ever will say or write (Pearlstein and his colleagues assure) will seek to dissuade any young people from attending one, if that is their dream and plan. But the project also starts from the premise that “many young men and women really don’t want to spend a minimum of four years in college, but they enroll nevertheless. They do so possibly because of parental, peer, or more enveloping pressures, or because they believe a baccalaureate degree is their only avenue to occupational success – when it definitely is not.” Many such attempts “end sadly, with students not only dropping out but routinely winding up in sizable debt.” That is not good, Pearlstein concluded, “for anybody, or for the economy, or for society itself.”

At the core of the project is better understanding and overcoming the deep cultural bias that just about every young American ought to seek a four-year degree, at minimum.

What kinds of educational options might work better for countless young men and women? Focus so far has been on alternative routes such as apprenticeships, one- and two-year certificate programs in community and technical colleges, and rigorous job training in the military, among other avenues, including enrolling in a one- or two-year hands-on program after earning a four-year degree in order finally to learn a marketable skill in the trades or in another technical or artisanal area.

“One of the things Kathy, John, and I have learned in our many conversations,” Pearlstein said, “is that there already is an enormous amount of activity going on in specific fi elds aimed at urging young people to consider pursuing a career in one of them. But there isn’t any organization or voice providing what might be described as an ‘overarching narrative’ that both accentuates and brings a measure of coherence to all the efforts underway in Minnesota.”

Providing that ongoing story, Pearlstein summed up, in collaboration with an eclectic range of groups and individuals throughout the state – starting with students and parents themselves – will be “one of the project’s most vital contributions.”

There is no charge for the event, but advance registration is required. Sign up at or call 612-325-3597.