Lifelong Learning In a Nutshell:

Too many young people are told that to have a successful career or a meaningful life, you must attend their Lifelong learning is essential to long-term success.  Yet, too many young people are told that to have a successful career or a meaningful life, they must attend their government-assigned school, take classes that put them on the “college prep” track, score well on standardized tests, and then get a degree. The end.  While that’s one potential path, the reality is there are thousands of different paths that can lead to success. The pursuit of knowledge is never finished, and every student in the United States needs the freedom to continue their own education after high school in ways and in places that work for them. Education must be a lifelong pursuit, like a highway with on and off-ramps to where you want or need to go, not a one-way road with no options.

In Depth:

“We must rethink higher education because our students are demanding that we do so, and importantly, our times also demand it. We must be bold. We must embrace a vision for the future, not settle for a product of the past.”

Betsy DeVos

Too many for too long have suggested – subtly, or not so subtly – that the 4-year degree, the so-called “traditional” college experience is the right, and only, answer to the question of what constitutes the correct path to a successful future. That may be the right answer for some, but that singular focus hasn’t served anyone well.

There are many avenues to gain what individual students need: industry-recognized certificates, credentials and licensures, badges, micro-degrees, apprenticeships, two-year degrees, four-year degrees, and advanced degrees. All are valid paths, and all should be treated equally. If it’s the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education.

At the same time, we must also put to bed the notion that education stops at age 22. Universities call graduation ceremonies “commencements” for a reason; a diploma is not a finish line but instead the beginning. Education is — and should be — a lifelong pursuit.

Betsy DeVos visits with adults participating in a lifelong learning program at Montgomery Community College
Betsy DeVos at Montgomery Community College Adult STEM Class

We must also confront the reality that most of today’s college students or recent graduates don’t enter work in their field of study, let alone plan to stay in the same field for the rest of their lives. Today’s reality is that most Americans will have a dozen or more jobs over the course of their lifetimes, often in roles very different from one another and often in unrelated sectors.  And many more would prefer to create their own future by becoming entrepreneurs, inventors, creators and makers. Frankly, we need many more who do just that.

Students should be able to pursue their education where, when, and how it works for them and their schedules. Financial aid should not be withheld simply because they pursue a non-traditional path. Politicians and bureaucrats should not dictate to students when and how they can learn.  That’s why we restored year-round Pell funding soon after I became Secretary of Education. It was a commonsense step to help students save money and take more control of their own education journey. In many cases, it facilitates finishing course work faster, and, with less debt. I also worked closely with Congress to modernize the laws governing Career and Technical Education and break down the silos that too often exist between education and industry.

I was also pleased to serve on the White House Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. Together with leaders from the private sector, we began rethinking what effective apprenticeships look like today. That includes removing barriers for students who currently must choose to either further their education or hold a job to pay the bills. There is no reason students cannot do both.  

When we acknowledge education is a lifelong pursuit and put policies in place that give students the freedom to explore education opportunities in the ways and places that work for them, we will open up more pathways to success and give more students the ability to reach their full potential.