Higher education offers many opportunities, but it is not the only path to success.

So states a report by the National School Boards Association Center for Public Education (CPE), which found that well-prepared high school graduates, who have strong academic knowledge and skills, can achieve more success than graduates of two-year colleges, and success similar to graduates of four-year colleges.

The report, the third in a series about non-college goers, is called “Path Least Taken III: Rigor and focus in high school pays dividends in the future.” It concluded that high school graduates with “high credentials,” a mix of academic knowledge and job-specific or technical skills developed in high school, plus a professional certificate or license, can also achieve bright futures.

“To better prepare the next generation, school leaders have to look at enhancing educational opportunities for all students, both college bound and career bound, to ensure future readiness for both,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association.

High credentials are identified as including:

  • A high school diploma;
  • Algebra II and advanced science;
  • A C+ grade point average or above, and
  • An occupational concentration defined as three or more courses in a single labor market area, culminating in a professional license or certificate.

While an earlier “Path Least Taken” report overall found dimmer prospects for students who had not gone to college, compared to those who did, the new report was more optimistic. It said that students with high credentials achieved higher economic and social outcomes at age 26 than both students who earned two-year college degrees, and students who did not complete their college education. The “high credentialed” non-college goers earned 39 percent more than non-credentialed, non-college goers, and 21 percent more than two-year degree holders. And, the high-credentialed group trailed four-year degree earners in hourly wage by only 3.4 percent.