Each year, millions of Americans struggle to navigate the job market. Rapidly changing technology and a volatile economy can make it hard for many workers to find the right fit. ExcelinEd, a national educational advocacy organization, argues that another key difficulty is that many adults lack the skills that employers demand. Educational background, whether it’s a high school diploma or a college degree, doesn’t necessarily translate into a job as the economy and technology change.
High-quality educational pathways that are closely aligned to in-demand, high-wage jobs could help address a lack of readiness. But for many learners, such pathways are difficult to find and even more difficult to access. State policy can fix that, as state leaders are in the best position to connect policies, programs, and institutions across sectors. That’s why ExcelinEd created Pathways Matter, an online tool that outlines a continuum of education-to-workforce policies.
The Pathways Matters framework is divided into six focus areas: learner pathways, postsecondary acceleration, postsecondary credential attainment, workforce readiness, employer engagement, and continuum alignment and quality indicators. Within these areas, there are twenty recommended policies that provide learners of all ages with on and off ramps to high-quality educational pathways. To give state leaders an example of what’s possible—and some tips about where to start—ExcelinEd analyzed the policies of several states.
Ohio was one of these states, and its case study identifies several strengths and weaknesses. We’ll examine the weaknesses in a later piece, but for now, here’s a look at two focus areas where the Buckeye State has made some positive inroads.
This focus area homes in on the importance of streamlining postsecondary learning and empowering high school students to earn college credit and reduce the time it will take them to earn a postsecondary degree. Ohio’s current dual-enrollment program, College Credit Plus (CCP), fits that bill, as it allows students in grades 7–12 who have demonstrated academic readiness to take college courses at no cost. The program’s most recent annual report notes that despite pandemic-related disruptions, more than 76,000 students participated in the program during the 2020–21 school year.
But CCP isn’t Ohio’s only postsecondary acceleration initiative. The state also covers the cost of AP and IB exams for eligible low-income students, and state law guarantees that students can receive college credit from state institutions for any available AP test as long as they earn a score of three or higher. Ohio is also home to Career-Technical Assurance Guides, which are statewide articulation agreements that require all public colleges and universities to award postsecondary credit for certain career and technical education (CTE) courses. Not every available CTE course is included in these guides, but there are a wide variety of options, and their existence ensures that courses of all types—not just typical academic subjects—can translate into college credit.
This focus area emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the skills Ohioans are taught, the credentials they earn, and the work-based learning opportunities that are available will effectively prepare them for the future. Ohio still has some work to do in this area, but the state has made some big strides. Consider the following:
- TechCred is a program designed to help Ohioans earn credentials and help businesses upskill current and potential employees. Only certain credentials are eligible for reimbursement: They must be short-term (able to be completed in no more than one year), industry-recognized, and technology-focused. Participating in the program requires some legwork by businesses, as they must identify potential employees who would benefit, partner with a credential provider, and apply for reimbursement within a designated time frame. The 2021 annual report from the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation (GOWT) notes that after eleven TechCred application windows, a total of 1,615 employers were awarded over $35 million to cover the cost of 32,269 tech-focused credentials.
- The Individual Microcredential Assistance Program, or IMAP, is designed to help low-income and unemployed Ohioans complete training programs and earn credentials at no cost. The program was part of the legislation that created TechCred, and as such, it follows a similar framework. Training providers—state institutions of higher education, Ohio technical centers, private businesses, and other institutions that offer microcredential training—cover all tuition, fees, and costs associated with helping eligible Ohioans learn new skills. Once participants have earned a credential, providers are permitted to submit a reimbursement application. The 2021 GOWT annual report notes that since the creation of the program, more than $2.2 million has been awarded to eleven training providers who assisted approximately 1,592 Ohioans.
- The Innovative Workforce Incentive Program (IWIP) provides grant funding to school districts to help them establish new programs for students to earn qualifying credentials in “priority” industry sectors. All districts were eligible to receive a share of the $25 million allocated for the program. As a further incentive, when a student earns a qualifying credential, his or her school receives an additional payment of $1,250. According to the 2021 GOWT annual report, fifty-four school districts have received grants totaling $13.5 million thus far.
If Ohio wants a strong and vibrant workforce, it’s crucial that learners of all ages are well-prepared. Effective state policy that bridges the K–12, higher ed, and workforce sectors is crucial, and the Pathways Matter framework offers some solid policy recommendations for how to get it done. Ohio already has several of these policies in place, especially in the postsecondary acceleration and workforce readiness areas. State leaders deserve kudos for these efforts. But there’s still plenty of work to be done, so stay tuned for an analysis of Ohio’s areas for growth.