Ensuring college and career readiness by focusing on mastery of core academic skills and of technical skills related to a specific career path is essential to every student’s future success. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent rush of federal funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and other relief programs highlighted the challenges and opportunities that state education agencies (SEAs) have in rethinking how to best prepare students for successful careers with a diploma or industry credentials.
There has never been a more critical time to assist students with plans for their futures. The fallout from the pandemic continues with an alarming decline in postsecondary enrollment. The undergraduate student body fell by 1.4 million students from the spring of 2020 to the spring of 2021.
As school buildings closed and districts scrambled to transfer instruction to online and hybrid models, Career and Technical Education (CTE) classrooms were particularly impacted due to the hands-on nature of many CTE courses, which often require the use of specialized equipment and machinery. This has forced local education agencies (LEAs) and SEAs to rethink their approaches to CTE specifically, and to college and career readiness more generally.
We sat down with Boris Granovskiy, the College and Career Readiness expert at the Region 5—Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia—and Region 14—Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas—Comprehensive Centers, to gain some insight into how SEAs can best support students and teachers to be prepared for a successful life after high school.
What is College and Career Readiness (CCR)?
College readiness means students are prepared to succeed in a postsecondary education program. The skills required for a student to be college-ready include basic academic preparation, as well as writing, study, and foundational skills.
Career readiness means a student is prepared for entry into, and advancement through, a high-skill, high-wage occupation. The requirements for a student to be considered career-ready have expanded. In addition to general academic and soft skills, many employers look for certifications or work-based learning experience.
A major challenge for LEAs and SEAs in CCR is providing many opportunities for their students. Beginning in middle school, students must be informed and aware of all the academic and professional opportunities available to them.
Collaborating with education providers and employers about needs and resources is crucial to ensure that the skills being taught to students relate to the academic and career paths that are available to them and best suit their needs. Our work in Region 14 Comprehensive Center’s (R14CC’s) CCR portfolio focuses on building state capacity to carry out this multipronged, often-changing, vital work to set students on the path to success.
How can SEAs support CCR?
Removing barriers is essential. Students need to be made aware about academic and professional opportunities. This can be accomplished by organizing virtual or in-person job and college fairs; creating electronic tools that highlight high-wage, high-demand occupations; and organizing career and academic coaching. These avenues will help students understand the skills and credentials necessary to succeed beyond their high school years.
What are the obstacles to successfully introducing appropriate tools?
In many cases, SEAs can create sleek, attractive online tools containing all the information that students need for determining potential career pathways. However, such tools are not effective without proper publicity, coaching, and support. This can often be forgotten in a rush to launch something that looks shiny and appealing, but putting effort into making sure that students, parents, and guidance and career counselors are familiar with the tools available to them and feel comfortable using them is just as important.
How do you see R14CC supporting SEAs?
The education experts at R14CC see the big picture around college and career readiness. They can help guide SEAs and their staff through the process of creating a single student success plan. For example, R14CC can help convene and guide discussions among all stakeholder groups. Getting these groups into a dialogue about their needs and available resources is crucial to ensuring that the skills being taught to students in schools are the same skills that are needed by local employers or set the students up for postsecondary success.
R14CC staff can help build SEA capacity by helping their staff identify and implement best practices for graduation planning, career coaching, and identifying opportunities for high-quality work-based learning experiences.
What are the best practices related to students with disabilities, equity, and students experiencing homelessness?
Students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education or high-wage, high-skill occupations are typically at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to information about opportunities. They are a prime example of groups that would not be helped by a state-of-the-art career planning tool if they do not have access to connected devices or reliable internet access.
Mindful outreach to these groups requires dedicated resources from state and local education agencies. This can be tremendously impactful on marginalized students’ lives and experiences.
Ensuring graduation planning and career path exploration are not reduced to a box-checking exercise is extremely important, as is a frequent follow-up of their progress. Whenever possible, personalized career coaching can make a major difference, as can a robust, successful career mentorship system.
Do you have any takeaways from supporting SEAs across states and regions?
Working across states in Regions 5 and 14 has shown me that a lot of states are facing similar problems concerning college and career readiness. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted CTE programs particularly hard, as many of these programs rely heavily on hands-on teaching and expensive equipment that cannot easily be brought home by the students.
In response to the pandemic, many states have come up with innovative solutions, including developing and distributing new online curricula for CTE courses, offering virtual internships, guest lectures, career fairs, and job-shadowing opportunities, and providing students access to fully online or hybrid programs resulting in certificates or industry-recognized credentials.
Bringing states together and sharing best-practice solutions to common challenges can be a valuable benefit to our work across multiple states in Regions 5 and 14. Through this experience, we can provide SEAs with customized solutions based on success stories from other states and guide them through an evidence-based approach and a deep knowledge of CCR best practices.
More from Boris over on the Region 5 Comprehensive Center blog
Career and Technical Education During the Pandemic and Beyond: Challenges and Innovations