In the last few years, a significant number of states have set attainment goals in an attempt to increase the number of adults with a postsecondary certificate, credential, or degree. The ambitious nature of these goals has required leaders to look beyond traditional high-school-to-college routes and invest more purposefully in career-and-technical-education (CTE) programs, which teach students both academic and technical skills.
Achieving these lofty goals, however, requires thoughtful policies and rigorous implementation. Delaware offers a great example of how to do so. Back in 2015, a diverse group of stakeholders—including the governor, state agencies like the departments of education and labor, business leaders, K–12 and higher education representatives, and philanthropic organizations—joined forces to launch Pathways, a statewide program that offers K–12 students the opportunity to complete a program of study aligned with an in-demand career before they graduate. Pathways is officially part of a Jobs for the Future network called Pathways to Prosperity, which includes similar programs in fifteen other states. One of those states is Ohio, though its involvement is only at a regional level.
Here’s how Delaware’s program works: Each pathway is a program of study that involves a sequence of specialized courses, a work-based learning (WBL) experience, and the option to earn college credit. For example, the manufacturing engineering technology pathway requires students to complete three specially designed courses and a WBL experience, and permits them to earn up to three college credits. Other pathways, like computer science, require students to take AP courses aligned to the subject matter. Informational sheets for the twenty-five designated pathways are available online. They include potential jobs and projected salaries for three levels of attainment: a certificate, an associate degree, and a bachelor’s degree. The Pathways website also offers career exploration tools that allow students to explore labor market data and in-demand occupations.
Because it’s a CTE initiative, work-based learning is an integral part of Pathways. Depending on a student’s age and program of study, such experiences could mean job shadowing, co-ops, or an apprenticeship. The NAF Academy of Finance pathway, for instance, includes a 120-hour paid summer internship. Some programs of study also prepare students to earn credentials upon completion. For example, the Architectural Engineering Technology pathway prepares students to earn AutoCAD and Revit certification and up to ten college credits.
This school year, Delaware’s Pathways program is serving approximately 15,000 students. State leaders have a goal of serving 20,000 students—or half the state’s public high school population—by 2020–21. There are forty-two participating high schools, a number that includes all nineteen of the state’s public districts (both comprehensive and vocational-technical), eight charter schools, and two schools for at-risk students.
The first students to complete the program received diplomas in 2019, so it’s too soon to know whether Pathways has positively impacted their long-term outcomes. But a recent report pointed out just how many stakeholders could benefit if this initiative lives up to its potential. For schools, the program could increase student engagement by making learning more relevant and interesting. For students, it offers the opportunity to earn an industry-recognized credential, work experience, and college credit while working toward a high school diploma. Businesses get access to a pipeline of new employees and have the opportunity to shape the training and curricula in their fields. And for the state as a whole, the program could contribute to meeting employer’s talent demands, attracting new businesses, improving the economy, and increasing the likelihood of meeting the attainment goal.
Some of these stakeholder groups are already seeing benefits. According to a baseline report published last year, 85 percent of surveyed employers reported they were likely or very likely to hire a student they had employed during an immersive work-based learning experience—a promising development for young people and businesses alike. Since January 2019, more than 240 employers in over twenty industries have expressed interest in working with schools. And although one of the greatest roadblocks to CTE expansion is parental awareness and support, approximately 60 percent of parents reported that they would recommend CTE pathways to their family and friends.
Overall, Delaware’s Pathways program is a promising plan to invest in students, local businesses, and the state’s future. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Most significantly, though, it ensures that the most important stakeholders—students—are leaving the K–12 sector not only with knowledge and skills, but also valuable work experience and even workplace credentials and college credit.
Given all its potential, it’s worth asking whether Ohio could implement a similar program and reap some of the same rewards. Stay tuned for a future piece that will examine that possibility.