Helping Teens Succeed: We must blur the lines between HS, college and careers
This article was originally published as part of the Center for Reinventing Public Education State of the American Student 2023 report. As part of this effort, CRPE asked 14 experts from various sectors to provide examples of innovations, solutions or possible paths forward as education leaders navigate through the current crisis. (See all views)
I have always believed that education is the closest thing we have to a magic solution to success in life. A good education leads to greater personal gains, better health outcomes, a stronger economy, and lower community crime rates, among many other benefits. For example, holders of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees earn average weekly earnings of $1,334 and $963, respectively, compared to $809 for their peers with only a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But with the global economy evolving rapidly, we must rethink the way we educate our students and workforce. The fragmented approach — where high schools, post-secondary institutions, and employers operate in their own silos — hurts everyone.
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We need to create smoother paths from school
To the professions. In Colorado, for example, 91.4% of jobs that can support a family of three require post-secondary education or some form of high school training or certification beyond diploma requirements. Traditional four-year degrees alone cannot solve this problem, as more and more jobs value skills more than a formal college degree.
In Colorado, we refer to breaking down silos as “blurring.” Advanced degrees and credentials are now stakes for participation in the modern economy, but accessing them typically requires students to persist through four years of high school work that often does not seem relevant to their future. They then move on to post-secondary programs where they must take on debt, pay tuition, or give up work while pursuing credentials. Lack of clarity can make high school more relevant and make obtaining credentials more accessible for all students.
While Colorado has seen one of the nation’s strongest post-pandemic economic recoveries, employers across our state are still struggling to find the right talent for their available jobs. One factor: We have historically asked students to make choices about their careers after Drop out of high school, often without having the proper data needed to determine industry-specific needs or the type of return on investment a particular path will provide.
That’s why we’ve been so focused on blurring the lines between high school, higher education, and the workforce. Students and young professionals deserve more opportunities to gain skills.
By increasing these opportunities, we can save people time and money, create a better trained workforce, and better support our business.
Today, approximately 53% of Colorado high school graduates earn college credit or industry credentials through dual and concurrent enrollment while in high school, saving them an estimated $53 million annually in educational costs. An increasing number are also participating in apprenticeship and “learn-while-earning” models.
Innovative intermediaries, like CareerWise Colorado, work between education and business to provide career training opportunities for young people in industries such as banking and finance, health care, insurance, and advanced manufacturing.
Additionally, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH) models provide students the opportunity to learn on the job while in high school, earn an associate’s degree and be in first place for those jobs upon graduation.
However, more students can and should participate in these opportunities. Our vision is that every student will graduate with a diploma in one hand and a certificate, degree, or meaningful job experience in the other.
That’s why the Colorado Legislature created a task force that brings together partners from schools, post-secondary pathways and industry. Its mission was to “develop and recommend policies, laws, and regulations to support equitable and sustainable expansion and alignment of programs that integrate secondary, postsecondary, and work-based learning opportunities.”
Last year, the task force identified several barriers to the different pathways available to students: lack of awareness, confusion about program goals, affordability, and insufficient data about outcomes. Schools are already working to better target and maximize their resources, and the task force will produce a final report with clear recommendations on how to scale this work by the end of 2023.
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A four-year degree is still a great option for many students, but we must also create opportunities for those who choose a different path. That’s why we’re creating a skills-based ecosystem, where people of all ages can get the skills they need to fill the jobs that will earn them a good life and support their families.
To lead by example, we have implemented skills-based hiring practices for our state workforce, expanded apprenticeship opportunities within state government, and implemented best practices already in place at many of the state’s major employers.
Colorado has removed or provided flexibility regarding degree
Requirements for most state jobs, such as entry-level positions, project management, IT and supervisory roles, and replaced with the opportunity to demonstrate experience and transferable skills. In the private sector, companies like Google and Slalom Consulting now list degrees as optional for most jobs in Colorado.
To ensure all students have access to these diverse pathways, Colorado has created a no-cost credential program, making it completely free to pursue a number of health care degrees at any of our community and technical colleges. More than 1,000 students have benefited from this program, and we are working to expand it to other in-demand industries, such as early childhood and education, law enforcement, fire and forestry, skilled trades, and green jobs. We have also created a new state scholarship program that will provide eligible students who graduate in 2023-2024 with $1,500 each to pursue higher education or post-secondary training.
We have also implemented a series of programs that help ensure our agencies, schools, and industry partners work together to break down silos and integrate the “Blur the Lines” vision statewide. In recent years, we have created other programs that encourage agencies, schools, and businesses to collaborate in ways that provide students with more opportunities to earn credits and degrees. This includes expanding state apprenticeships, more scholarships for students in high-need fields, and an $85 million grant program that helps companies work with schools to develop their own talent.
All of this work creates a more integrated pipeline of talent that serves students, professionals and businesses alike. Blurring the lines means creating new opportunities, taking a bold new approach to training tomorrow’s workforce, and meeting Coloradans where they are – helping everyone achieve a successful future in a career they love.
See more from the Center for Reinventing Public Education and its Careers State of the American Student 2023 report.