Betting It All on College- and Career-Ready Students

College- and Career-Readiness

After graduation, the path into adulthood has many different forks. As educators, the main objective is to prepare students to be college and career ready by providing them the necessary academic skills to be successful beyond the traditional classroom.

The idea of having an educational standard at the state level where all students are considered “college and career ready” is intriguing to educational leaders and legislators. This may be why the topic has become so prevalent in political circles. So when a state leader says graduating students are college and career ready, what does that mean?

Curriculum requirements for a diploma

While it’s not a requirement, many states who follow a college- and career-readiness model typically emphasize math and language arts. Creating a college- and career-ready curriculum where literacy and mathematics credits are increased is not unusual.

However, this is not the case in all states.

  • Beginning in 2019, Washington state will institute a college- and career-ready diploma path that will require additional credit hours in science, art, and world languages. The idea is to prepare Washington students for Washington jobs.
  • Indiana offers not only a college- and career-ready diploma, but also a workforce-ready diploma.

The difference between the two lies in the additional credit-hour requirements for math, science, and social studies. Both diploma paths include college- and career-readiness credits, emphasizing career preparedness and personal financial responsibility.

Path past high school

Even with a college- and career-ready curriculum in place, there is no guarantee that students will even apply for admission to college or seek out a meaningful career path. Many students are unable to look beyond the present. Is it possible to create a college and career readiness standard at the state level where all students who graduate have a plan for their future?

During a student’s final year of high school, she has a lot of paperwork to fill out and a lot of hoops to jump in order to walk away with a diploma. Yearbook needs to be ordered, cap and gown needs to be sized, and class rings need to be paid for.

What if, in the midst of all the steps toward graduation, a future path needed to be decided? A choice needed to be made, not because of a suggestion by a guidance counselor, but because the choice was a requirement for graduation? If a student was not allowed to graduate from high school without a verified post-high school plan that included admission to a two- or four-year college, admission to a career tech, or enlistment into the military, would this be the pinnacle of college and career readiness?

Why students may not pursue college or career track

Apathy may be a determining factor for some students who do not seek a career path beyond high school. However, for many, poverty is the strongest factor. A report from the National Student Clearinghouse, which examined more than 4 million students from the class of 2014, found that 44 to 58 percent of students from schools that predominantly serve low-income families enrolled in college. That rate compares to 64 to 74 percent of students from higher-income groups.

For many of the lower-income students, resources are not made readily available to show the opportunities for grants and tuition support. Some do not believe college could be an option. Imagine a student without a game plan after high school who receives an admission letter to a local community college. That student may never attend, but the letter now allows them to see a path toward a goal they didn’t previously realize existed.

A traditional collegiate path does not appeal to all students. For many, the thought of attending several more years of classes followed by evenings of homework is not attractive. For several students, the desire to learn a meaningful career skill in a hands-on environment leads them to an accredited career technical school. Providing a wide variety of career paths that lead to high-demand, high-paying jobs, career techs have gained a positive reputation as an alternative route for students who choose to be career ready as quickly as possible.

For decades, many career paths included military experience. The various branches of the Armed Forces offered technical training, structure, experience, and a respected job to even the most inexperienced candidate. About 1 percent of the adult population in the United States serves in the military, according to Harvey Sapolsky, professor of public policy and organization at MIT. For students searching for an opportunity to explore the world, prevent falling into the trap of student loans, or wanting to serve their country, the military may be able to provide a wealth of options.

As with anything, there may be exceptions. It is nearly impossible to develop a program or policy that encompasses every student.

However, combining a strong college- and career-readiness curriculum that includes meaningful high school credit requirements with a graduation mandate for a post-high school plan means that state leaders’ pledges of college- and career-ready education could truly mean something.

Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University

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