Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center documents her recent interview with N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

[S]ometimes we hear stories of high school students who are made to believe that the only way to succeed in life is to earn a four-year degree. How do schools in North Carolina inform students of alternative career pathways such as vocational training or apprenticeships?

You’re exactly right. For far too long, students have felt that the education leaders have pushed only college as the way to be successful. So, it starts at the top: It starts with the leaders proactively getting out there, in the schools, in front of the students and say: “You will be a success. It is up to you what career pathway you’ll take to be that success. You can practice and study and get a certificate in welding—in high school in North Carolina—and you can come out, graduate from high school and be a welder and have a great prosperous career. Or, if you want to, you can go down the track of a four-year degree, then a master’s degree, or even a PhD. You can be successful that way, too.”

It’s important to embrace that every individual is unique and has unique strengths. So, we need to build the pathways for each of those strengths to be successful. It starts with what we are doing right now, talking about it, getting that message out, making sure everyone hears that there are multiple pathways to success. The second is what we’re working on with the MyFutureNC Commission: County by county, building out the leadership structure—with local businesses being able to come into the schools and community colleges and say: “Here’s where the careers are right now, we need to teach students about these options, and then we need to teach them how they get here.”