• Joanne Jacobs

The Big Blur: Rethink high school, job training, college


Linking high school, work-based learning and college is an idea whose time may have come, writes Javeria Salman in the Hechinger Report.


Photo: Fast Forward Louisiana

Jobs for the Future proposes combining the last two years of high school with the first two years of college in a "Big Blur." The new institutions would be "co-designed with regional employers so that all students get work-based learning experiences and graduate — without tuition costs — with a post-secondary credential that has labor market value."


Fewer teens are enrolling in college, more Americans are questioning college's value and tuition costs keep rising, write Fordham's Amber M. Northern and Michael J. Petrilli in the foreword of a new study on the pay-off for students who earn industry-recognized credentials (IRCs) in high school. They call for rethinking high school to prepare students for skilled careers.


Career exploration should start in grades 5-8, they write, so students can plan their path through high school.


Students who plan to go straight to the workforce should have chance to take career courses in high school, earn IRCs and, if they have the aptitude and interest, start a high-quality apprenticeship.

CareerWise Colorado operates a program in which participants split their time between high school and the workplace. Apprentices begin in grade eleven and finish in their thirteenth year, yielding both an IRC and a chance to earn debt-free college credit.
Louisiana’s Fast Forward . . . students spend the majority of grades nine and ten on the high school campus, earning core graduation requirements. Once they reach grades eleven and twelve, students spend the majority of their time on the postsecondary campus or a satellite location while dually enrolled in courses. This ensures students complete their graduation requirements while also earning an associate’s degree or earning on-the-job experience participating in a state-registered pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship.

These ideas aren't new. People have been calling for more apprenticeships since Noah built the Ark.


Mary Catherine Swanson was writing about the "forgotten middle" -- the "silent majority" of C students -- back in 2005. (Thanks to grade inflation, they're now B students.) "They’ll graduate, but won’t be prepared for college," she wrote. "And many of them will wander around for years in dead-end jobs." Swanson founded AVID in 1980 to put under-achieving students on the college track.


Employers have gotten used to letting community colleges train new workers, but that's left them short of people to fill skilled jobs. Baby boomers are retiring or gone. A smaller cohort of young people is leaving high school (and dropping out of community college) with weaker skills. That may motivate employers to get serious about job training. Community colleges are losing students, so they're motivated. Will K-12 educators be willing to change?


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