Two years ago, JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched a $75 million five-year initiative called New Skills for Youth (NSFY). The goal was to expand access to high-quality career and technical education programs that can lead students to postsecondary degrees, credentials, and well-paying jobs.
As part of the initiative, the company partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers, Advance CTE, and Education Strategy Group to run a multi-year grant competition for states interested in strengthening their CTE sectors. In 2016, twenty-four states and Washington, D.C., were awarded grants worth $100,000 as part of phase one, which required states to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and develop a three-year action plan. In early 2017, phase two began after ten states were awarded $2 million apiece to expand and improve career pathways for high school students over the course of three years. These states include Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The first year of phase two is now complete, and a recently released 2017 snapshot outlines the “notable progress” that selected states made in designing, enhancing, and scaling high-quality career pathways. Here’s a look at how a few of these states addressed four of the most crucial aspects of high-quality CTE.
Access and equity
In order to truly leverage the potential of CTE, it’s vital that all students, regardless of their background or needs, have the opportunity to enroll in high-quality programs. The NSFY state that best exemplifies progress in this area is Delaware, where Delaware Pathways—a state-wide initiative aimed at engaging students in career exploration and training—has transformed the state into a national leader in career pathways. Last year, Delaware focused on addressing the specific challenges that students with disabilities face by providing training for teachers on how to establish support systems that aid these children as they enroll and move through their career pathways of choice. The state also began working with the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity to create a school-based support model that would combine resources from the Department of Education, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Department of Health and Social Services. By breaking down barriers between these three departments, Delaware will be able to ensure that all students have the access and support they need to succeed. So far, their efforts seem to be working: Enrollment in Delaware Pathways programs is on track to reflect the population of the state.
As CTE grows in popularity and prominence, it’s important for states to gather quality and meaningful data. Kentucky is leading the way on this front by improving its cross-sector use of labor market data. The Blue Grass State has one of the strongest longitudinal data systems in the country, which is run by an independent agency known as the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS). In August 2017, the state legislature identified KCEWS as the primary source for labor market information. Since then, a variety of groups—including the Department of Education, the Workforce Innovation Board, the Cabinet for Economic Development, and the Chamber of Commerce—have been working in tandem and using KWECS data to match the state’s most highly valued industry certifications with existing career pathways. As a result, the Department of Education is in the process of phasing out or transforming CTE programs that aren’t aligned with high-demand, high-wage industries.
One of the most difficult aspects of cultivating a high-functioning CTE sector is bridging the gap between schools and employers. Louisiana accomplished this by creating education subcommittees within the state’s sixteen regional Workforce Development Boards (WDBs). These subcommittees are responsible for helping to craft goals for K–12 career-pathway participation and credential attainment in high-demand industries. By leveraging already-existing WDBs, the state has been able to ensure local buy-in and align K–12 goals to regional economic and workforce development needs.
States have also started leveraging technology to bridge the gap between schools and employers. Louisiana, for example, utilizes a virtual video conferencing platform called Nepris that allows teachers to bring industry experts straight into their classrooms as guest speakers, mentors, and competition judges. Wisconsin uses the Inspire platform, an online portal that allows employers to connect with students for work-based learning experiences, job shadowing, and interviews.
As states grow their CTE sectors, it’s important that they don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Massachusetts—one of the highest performing CTE sectors in the nation—offers an excellent example of how to maintain quality and rigor. A 2016 report on the Bay State’s early-college landscape identified five high-quality design principles, such as providing equitable access, establishing guided academic pathways, and leveraging effective partnerships between schools and local businesses. These design principles were used as the basis of the state’s work to identify high-quality college and career pathways (HQCCPs) via a two-step application process. Programs that are formally designated by the state as HQCCPs receive ongoing support and technical assistance, are held accountable for student performance, and are eligible to receive grants to support their implementation efforts. As the state continues to identify and scale up HQCCPs, the Massachusetts NSFY team plans to establish a priority list of industry-recognized credentials that have labor market value.
The programs and solutions outlined above reflect only a small portion of the progress made by New Skills for Youth sites. The individual snapshot profiles provided for each of the phase-two states are treasure troves of innovative ideas and solutions, and other states would be wise to carefully consider them.
Disclaimer: The Fordham Institute recently received a research grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation for a study that is currently in the field, looking at the alignment (or lack thereof) between CTE course offerings and regional labor market demand.