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Regardless of their chosen path—college, career, or a mix of both— students in our current K-12 systems are not being effectively connected to the world they will face after high school. The key is exposure and preparation: showing kids the paths that are available to them, preparing them to succeed, and providing them opportunities to build competencies while still in high school.
Those interested in entering the workforce right out of high school face a societal perception that enrolling in a college or university is always a superior decision.
This has led to a degradation of career-focused education in K-12 learning, lack of quality exposure to different career pathways, and an arbitrary separation between the learning that takes place in high schools and the learning that industries and workplaces say they value.
For those interested in continuing their education at a college or university, the emphasis has tended to be less about furthering education attainment and more about performing well against a predetermined standard of performance that doesn’t necessarily equate to career—or industry-readiness. It is time to transform how we think about preparing students for postsecondary success, and the workforce, and removing the barriers and perceptions that keep each sector in its own silo.
Dual enrollment policies (sometimes called concurrent enrollment) allow high school students to enroll in college courses that lead to credit in both the K-12 and postsecondary systems. Typically, it involves the student enrolling in classes at a local college while still enrolled in the K-12 system. States should expand their current programs (or create them if they do not exist) to ensure students have access.
Other strategies that allow high school students to earn college credit in high school include: early college high schools, preparing students to earn college credit through mastery of CLEP exams, and accelerated course options (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, etc.)
Such credentials are valuable and necessary to work in a variety of occupations—from agriculture and manufacturing to information technology and health—and often convert to college credit as well.
Given international workplace demand for these credentials, the education system should incorporate them into K-12 learning in the same way children are credentialed as being competent in English, math, and other traditional subjects. States are accomplishing this through a variety of methods: financial incentives for schools/districts to increase the number of certificates, partnerships with industry, tax credits for businesses that provide credentialing resources, etc.
Work-based learning policies and programs allow students to engage with employers and industries to improve career awareness and experiences while young people are still in high school. Programs usually begin with exposing students to an array of industries/occupations through job shadows, workplace tours, mentoring, etc.; followed by engaging in a career of a student’s choice through internships, embedded projects, etc.; and culminating with real-world career experience through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, or even entry-level jobs while still in high school.