College and Career Readiness for All
In recent years, states, school districts, and schools have focused increasing attention on the question of how best to ensure that high school graduates are ready for college and careers. All too often, however, resultant efforts have employed the language of college AND careers while establishing systems and structures that prepare students for college OR careers. Some students benefit from supports to prepare them for postsecondary education, while other students are offered supports to assist them in entering the workforce.
The assumption underlying such a bifurcated approach is clear: in today’s American economy, college is perceived as prerequisite to accessing a career ladder, so substantial efforts support students for college success. These include rigorous academic coursework, standards-based testing in reading, writing, mathematics and science, exposure to college coursework during high school, and interventions to decrease dropout rates while working to increase four- and five-year high school graduation rates. This assumption also posits that not all students are “college material” and thus are best served by a curriculum and supports that ready them for post-graduation employment.
The banner of “college and career readiness for all” proceeds from a different set of assumptions. Consequently, all students benefit from comprehensive career planning; avenues to explore career options and to engage in career-related, work-based learning or other immersion experiences; and technical skill building opportunities coupled with credit and credential attainment options.
When only some students are provided with the preparation necessary for college success while others are only afforded employment-readiness opportunities, both sets of students are denied educational components essential to successful postsecondary transitions.
When only some students have access to rigorous coursework, including college-level dual enrollment courses, those who are not are often placed on a track that limits their ability to succeed in the postsecondary educational settings they will need to access in order to advance their careers. This is a crucial point; while it is true that a percentage of high school graduates will enter the workforce immediately after graduation, continued “life-long” learning will be required of them in the vast majority of careers they pursue.
When other students are seen as college bound and thus not in need of access to detailed career planning, exploration, immersion, and credential attainment opportunities, they are more likely to make expensive postsecondary educational decisions that leave them debt-ridden and no closer to a clear career pathway than they were upon graduation from high school.
To recap, high quality college AND career efforts provide ALL students with:
· Rigorous academics, including college-level academic and technical coursework
· Extensive career planning, including exploration opportunities and exposure to labor market information
· Work-based learning or other career-related immersion experiences
· Opportunities to earn occupational credentials that increase employability and wages