Building Student Success Through Relevant Career Pathways
By: Steve Gratz
I had the opportunity to be part of the Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB) Commission on Career-Technical Education that brought together legislators, educators and experts from across the United States to explore how to build career pathways leading from high school to good-paying jobs, training programs and postsecondary education in high-demand fields. Moreover, it focused on answering the question, "How do we help more young people earn credentials and degrees that matter in today’s economy?"
Labor market economists project that by 2020, two-thirds or more of all jobs will require some postsecondary education — either a certificate, a credential or a degree at the associate level or higher. At present, however, the SREB’s analyses of educational attainment data suggest that millions of young Americans are being left behind in the transition from high school to college and well-paying jobs. Significant numbers will never graduate, and many who do go on to college will not complete a credential with value in the marketplace. Furthermore, according to the Snapshot Report - Yearly Success and Progress Rates, fewer than 35 percent of all college-going students graduate on time.
For many young people, high school may be the last chance they have to acquire foundational literacy and math skills and earn a credential of value in the workplace. For these students, it is absolutely essential that we figure out how to get them into early advanced programs that will help them earn credentials. States can put more students on accelerated paths to credential attainment by offering career pathways in settings that blur the lines between high school, higher education and the workplace.
The commission’s report, Credentials for All, offers eight actions that can help reach the goal of doubling the number of young adults who hold relevant credentials or degrees by the age of 25.
Eight Essential Actions for Building Relevant Career Pathways
Action 1 — Build bridges from high school to postsecondary education and the workplace by creating rigorous, relevant career pathways driven by labor market demand.
- Combine a college-ready academic core with challenging technical studies and require students to complete real-world assignments.
- Align three stages of learning — secondary, postsecondary and the workplace — through strategies like dual enrollment and work-based learning.
- Create guidance systems that include career information, exploration and advisement, and engage students in ongoing career and college counseling beginning in the middle grades.
- Allow students to choose accelerated learning options in settings that provide the extended time needed to earn advanced industry credentials that lead to further education and training and high-skill, high-wage jobs in high-demand industries.
Action 2 — Expect all students to graduate academically ready for both college and careers.
Action 3 — Select assessments of technical and workplace readiness standards that offer long-term value to individual students, employers and the economy; carry college credits; and are directly linked to more advanced certifications and further study.
Action 4 — Provide all high school career pathway teachers, especially new teachers from industry, with the professional development and fast-track induction programs they need to meet high academic, technical and pedagogical standards and enhance students’ academic and technical readiness for college and careers.
Action 5 — Adopt a framework of strategies to restructure low-performing high schools around rigorous, relevant career pathways that accelerate learning and prepare students for postsecondary credentials and degrees.
Action 6 — Offer early advanced credential programs in shared-time technology centers, aligning their curricula, instruction and technology with home high schools and community and technical colleges.
Action 7 — Incentivize community and technical colleges and school districts to double the percentage of students who earn certificates, credentials and degrees by setting statewide readiness standards and aligning assessment and placement measures with those standards. Other strategies: Use the senior year of high school to reduce the number of students who need remediation, retool developmental education, adopt individualized support strategies for struggling students and improve postsecondary affordability.
Action 8 — Design accountability systems that recognize and reward districts, high schools, technology centers, and community and technical colleges that double the number of young adults who acquire postsecondary credentials and secure high-skill, high-wage jobs by age 25.
The alarming statistic in the Snapshot Report - Yearly Success and Progress Rates led the Ohio Department of Education to create a unique opportunity for seniors prior to graduation — the Senior Only Credential Program. Seniors who participate in this program have the opportunity to earn in-demand credentials in fields related to their career pathways that would serve as an “insurance policy” should they be one of the 65 percent who don’t persist and graduate on time from college. For example, in the health care sector, nursing is an in-demand job and many high school graduates head off to college with a goal to become a registered nurse. If we overlay the previous statistics, we may infer that fewer than four out of every 10 students will not persist and graduate on time. In this example, students could earn credentials including, but not limited to, medical assistant, STNA and phlebotomist. While this may not be their ultimate career goal, these credential are in a related field, they are in-demand in Ohio, and they would help the student earn a wealth-building wage should they have to postpone their college education for a period of time.
In addition to the Senior Only Credential Program, the Ohio Department of Education has created numerous resources for districts to utilize to help all students be more successful as they transition to post-high school endeavors. You can read about many of these resources at our Career Connections webpage.
In an effort to stimulate conversation through the ExtraCredit blog, I offer up the following questions and look forward to reading your comments.
- How do we help more young people earn credentials and degrees that matter in today’s economy?
- What can you do to increase the number of high school graduates who successfully reach their chosen career pathways?
- What barriers do you face if you would implement the eight action steps?
- What does it mean for all students to graduate academically ready for both college and careers?
- What changes need to occur in accountability systems to recognize and reward districts that double the number of young adults who acquire postsecondary credentials and secure high-skill, high-wage jobs by age 25?