Student Success

Report Stresses Need for Improved Career Pathways

convoluted career path

The Chiefs for Change have issued a "blueprint" for postsecondary success that calls for better transparency from institutions on student earnings outcomes, emphasizing industry-vetted career pathways and more seamless credit transfer processes. The organization has also issued a report looking at how to strengthen career and technical education in the country. Chiefs for Change is a bipartisan nonprofit network of state and district education leaders that advocates for equitable opportunities for all students.

The blueprint was developed in reaction to a broad concern that although a "record number of students" are earning their diplomas, too many of them lack the "pathways to upward economic mobility" promised by a college education. The Chiefs quoted from Lumina Foundation data, reporting that since 2008, the share of Americans aged 25 to 64 who have achieved a post-high-school credential has increased by just 9 percent, to 47 percent. That leaves a "neglected majority" of people "disconnected from systems of higher education and in danger of falling further behind," the blueprint asserted.

What's needed? The blueprint outlined three recommendations:

  • "Full outcome transparency," to replace "traditional prestige-based college ranking systems." Information needs to be made available on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, completion, employment and earnings data, and it needs to be "disaggregated by key demographics and tied to individual secondary schools, school districts and institutions of higher education" for every state.
  • "New and better career pathways" at the associate and bachelor levels that are aligned with industry demand and will prepare students for jobs in fields that are "high-growth" and "high-demand." These need to be competency-based, provide advisory supports and credentialing and come with "low- or no-debt options."
  • A "sustained focus on degree completion and successful transition to meaningful work."Those career pathways need to include "on-ramps and off-ramps" that provide education and training flexibility for students. Colleges need to eliminate "arbitrary roadblocks to credit transfers" and employers need to "support continuing education."

"As the leaders of some of the nation's largest K-12 education systems, we have a responsibility to our students that goes beyond the walls of our schools and follows them into young adulthood," the Chiefs wrote. "We will redouble our own efforts to guide our students to reliable and affordable postsecondary pathways."

The new report on CTE echoed many of the same recommendations, emphasizing that "high-quality CTE programs" can "complement" academics while also engaging students.

The report has appeared just as states and school systems are beginning the work of implementing the new version of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which allows new uses of federal funds and financial aid for apprenticeships and other types of work-based learning.

"Our entire model of how to prepare young people for their future is stuck in the past," said Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee. Among the guidance in "Let's Get to Work: Learning From Success in Career and Technical Education" for bringing CTE up to modern standards are these nuggets:

  • To boost the rigor of CTE pathways and courses, expand them beyond "just a course or two" and work harder to better connect them to industry needs;
  • To expand work-based learning in internships or apprenticeships at the state level by having education leaders encourage businesses to participate; where possible, businesses should pay students in those work opportunities; and
  • To collect and analyze data generated from college pathway efforts as part of improving career readiness programs, making sure they reach underserved students and address regional labor needs.

"Many of today's jobs require training, education and credentials beyond high school — but less than a college degree. The right preparation can make the difference between a rewarding career path and a dead-end minimum-wage job (or no job at all)," the report stated. CTE "can put more students on the path to success — a path that can lead directly to meaningful work while preserving the option of further education and career advancement down the line."

Both the full blueprint and the report on CTE are openly available on the Chiefs for Change website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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