Thursday, July 3, 2014
Alternative Pathways to Careers and College
To address persistent high levels of youth unemployment and prepare students for good jobs in growth industries, a number of states have, in a few short years, initiated ambitious system-level reforms designed to enable many more young people to gain traction toward careers and postsecondary degrees.
Eight states that are members of the Pathways to Prosperity Network have launched or dramatically expanded career pathways that offer flexible work and learning opportunities. The initiatives help young people complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with labor market value, and get launched in high-demand careers that can provide the basis for further advancement.
The states—California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee (to be joined this year by two additional states)—are using existing and new sources of funding to strengthen and modernize their career and technical education programs, expand such innovations as early college high schools and career academies, and build career pathways that span the last years of high school and the first two years of postsecondary education. These programs bring together regional employers, community college leaders, and K-12 leaders to design programs aligned with regional labor market needs and that lead to technical degrees or industry-specific certificates and credentials in areas of high demand.
A new report released today by Jobs for the Future (JFF), which manages the Pathways Network, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education identifies how much progress these states have made in two short years establishing these new pathways. The state initiatives are particularly focused on targeting career development in industries—such as information technology and computer science, health care, advanced manufacturing and pre-engineering, and other STEM fields—that new market research conducted by JFF shows are growing rapidly in their regions.
Shifting the Balance
“The states we are working with are committed to destroying once and for all the old notion that some kids need to be prepared for college while others are being prepared for careers. They understand that, in the 21st century, all young people need to be prepared both for some form of further education and a career. The Pathways Network is especially focused on helping states build out robust career pathways that span grades 9-14 and provide young people with a strong academic foundation and a solid core of technical skills that can enable them to get started in a high-demand, high-growth field,” said Robert Schwartz, professor emeritus at Harvard Graduate School of Education who, along with colleagues at JFF, helps to lead the Network.
“If we don't provide opportunities for work-based learning, internships, employment, mentoring, obtaining stackable credentials, use of technology, and industry resources for teacher-employer participation in the shaping of curriculum, then the ‘career’ part of ‘college and career readiness’ will not be fully realized,” says Miguel del Valle, chairman of the Illinois P-20 Council.
“Through the [Pathways to Prosperity] initiative, we are creating opportunities for students to learn about careers and acquire the necessary skills so they can transition smoothly from high school into a two-year technical program—and then get a job or pursue a bachelor’s degree,” notes Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Resources for Scale Up
These state efforts to provide pathways to work and continuous learning have been funded by reallocating existing state resources and tapping into new and existing federal funds, establishing new state funding streams, and by significant investments from business and philanthropy. The movement has been buoyed by the Obama Administration, which has launched the $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program that aims to retrain unemployed workers, and the $100 million Youth CareerConnect initiative, which funds partnerships between school districts, postsecondary institutions, and local employers.
State Action to Develop Pathways
Three states have secured funding and taken significant action to establish comprehensive statewide initiatives.
California has created a $500 million Career Pathways Trust to invest in regional collaboratives involving employers, community colleges, and high schools to support career programs, including work-based learning aligned with regional economic priorities.
Tennessee has launched the Tennessee Promise, an initiative through which the state will provide financial assistance for all high school graduates to attend a community college or a Tennessee College of Applied Technology in hopes that nearly 500,000 more Tennesseans obtain the two-year and technical degrees that the state feels it needs to add to its workforce.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed $28 million to support statewide replication of the P-TECH model, an IT-focused early college high school developed through a partnership between IBM and the City University of New York with additional funds in the pipeline.
Other states have been developing comprehensive regional approaches that they intend to scale up.
Illinois has used Race to the Top funds to launch a set of “Learning Exchanges,” public-private partnerships in STEM fields that develop and support career pathways systems in districts and regions across the state.
Missouri has created a state Innovation Campus fund to provide grants to support grades 9-14 pathways development through partnerships with school districts, community colleges and universities, and local businesses.
Massachusetts’ three Pathways sites—which include collaboratives of high schools, postsecondary institutions, employers, and workforce investment boards—were the recipient of a $4.8 million Youth CareerConnect federal grant that will fund three regional partnerships build pathways programs for grades 9-14.
In Ohio, the Innovation Generation—a partnership of 15 Central Ohio school districts, Columbus State Community College, and local businesses and community groups—won a $14.4 million competitive grant from the state’s Straight A Fund to support implementation of work-based learning and dual enrollment opportunities within a comprehensive set of grades 9-14 pathways.
Georgia’s 12 for Life program, a unique partnership between a school district and Southwire, a regional manufacturer, allows students to attend a high school built within a Southwire facility where they combine rigorous classroom academics with hands-on advanced manufacturing work-based learning—and even earn income from working.
Detailed information about the full scope of activities in each state can be found beginning on page 14 of the report.
Lessons and Recommendations
The report identifies a series of lessons learned and policy recommendations that can be useful to states and communities that seek to expand education and career readiness options for young people.
The report offers specifics about a broad range of changes that are needed to scale up and replicate models, to ensure that low-performing students aren’t shut out of opportunities, to incentivize industry involvement, and to ensure transferability of credits and credentials.
“Our work in states is demonstrating that educators themselves need to know far more about the labor market,” says Nancy Hoffman, vice president and senior advisor at Jobs for the Future. “States also are recognizing that it is crucial to have workforce intermediary organizations with expertise that can help bridge the gap between employers and educators and scale up workplace learning opportunities for young people.”