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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

As 'college for all' fades, schools build career pathways

"College for all" meant degrees for some, disappointment for others and $1.75 trillion in debt for 48 million borrowers. Urban school districts are expanding career technical education (CTE) to provide "direct, debt-free routes to in-demand careers," reports Chalkbeat's Mila Koumpilova in the Washington Post.

P-TECH students in New Brunswick, New Jersey can earn associate degrees and qualify for technical jobs.

Chicago Public schools CEO Janice Jackson, who stepped down last year, "focused on building a college-going culture," writes Koumpilova. Several CTE programs closed.

But 73 percent of district students will not go on to earn a two- or four-year degree.

“We went from not having a college-going culture almost to the extreme, where that's all we talked about,” Jackson told Chalkbeat. “What we learned is the same skills that students need to successfully complete high school, they need to access trade programs.”

Her successor, Pedro Martinez, is a CTE advocate. He foresees “a convergence of pre-K-12, higher education and industry all coming together.”

New York mayor Eric Adams and schools chancellor David Banks have held up CTE as key to reengaging students. Los Angeles announced this month new high school CTE pathways and middle school career labs.
. . . Inspired by studies showing promising gains in high school graduation and earning potential in New York City, Dallas has bet big on the P-TECH high school model: In these schools, students cultivate both academic and workplace skills with the goal of graduating with industry-recognized associate degrees.
. . . In Delaware, 50% of high school students are on career pathways, sequences of classes and training that prepare them for postsecondary learning and jobs.

Effective programs work with employers and community colleges to ensure students really are on a pathway to a career. With employers short of skilled workers and community colleges losing enrollment, potential partners are motivated.

“The goal is to bring internships and job shadowing opportunities, especially for younger children — even exposure at the middle school grades,” Chicago's Martinez said. “I'm telling industry partners, ‘You get to shape your workforce while they're still in high school.’”

Many students take career-tech courses in high school, but most don't don't seek jobs or pursue college majors in that field, concludes a new AIR/Calder working paper. In Kentucky and Texas, CTE students focusing in health and business were more likely to enroll in college than similar non-CTE students, while those in applied and occupational fields were less likely.

Students who earn industry-recognized certifications (IRCs) are more likely to be employed than similar students who don't, concludes a Fordham study. A few IRCs are linked to higher earnings. However, the difference is small, and most IRC earners go into unrelated fields.

The most popular IRCs are in health science and business, especially Microsoft Office–related certifications.

Career and technical programs that lead to IRCs do not constitute a lower educational track',” the Fordham study concluded. "IRC recipients are demographically diverse, varying across racial/ethnic, gender, economic, and special-education populations, but Hispanic and Asian students, and those without special needs, are somewhat more likely to earn IRCs than their peers."

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