High-quality educational pathways that are closely aligned to in-demand, high-wage jobs are crucial. When implemented strategically and effectively, they can expand talent pipelines for employers, offer opportunities to adults who are struggling to navigate an ever-changing job market, help address readiness gaps, and give recent graduates solid routes into the workforce.
In a previous blog post, I examined Pathways Matter, an online tool from ExcelinEd that outlines a continuum of education-to-workforce policies. The framework is divided into six focus areas (such as postsecondary credential attainment and employer engagement), which break down into twenty recommended policies that offer on and off ramps to high-quality educational pathways for learners of all ages. ExcelinEd also analyzed the policy landscape of several states—including Ohio—to determine if and how they’ve implemented the policies on the Pathways Matter continuum.
Ohio’s case study identifies plenty of strengths, especially in the areas of postsecondary acceleration and workforce readiness, but there are also several areas where changes are needed. To Ohio’s credit, many of its weaker areas have already been addressed in some way. But if state leaders want to continue the trend of improvement, they’ll need to build on those foundations over the next few years. Here’s a look at three policies that, if implemented well, could have a significant impact.
1. Establishing a statewide audit of CTE programs for quality and equity
Ohio has several quality and equity policies already in place thanks to its state plan for Perkins V, the federal law that governs how states fund and oversee career and technical education (CTE). For example, the state has ten quality standards for CTE programs, and assists school districts and career-technical planning districts with quality program reviews. Since 2019, Ohio has offered equity labs for secondary CTE programs. Participants in these labs review data on access, engagement, enrollment, and performance; identify gaps in these areas; perform root cause analyses; and use their findings to create plans for change. The competitive Equity for Each grant program has made $1.5 million available to help identify and promote “promising practices” for improving equity.
These policies are a good start. But without a comprehensive system to monitor trends across sectors and geographic areas, state leaders can’t get the whole picture. A biennial and statewide quality and equity audit of CTE programs could meet that need. Such an audit would evaluate student access to and participation in quality programming; collect program- and student-level completion data and disaggregate it by career field, student subgroup, and geographic region; and ensure program alignment to high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations. To be clear, Ohio likely already gathers much of this data. But it doesn’t use that data to uniformly evaluate quality and equity across all CTE programs and geographic regions, nor does it release those analyses in an easily digestible format for the public. The results of a statewide audit, on the other hand, would be publicly available in a biennial report. This report would give state leaders and stakeholders a common starting point, from which they could work together to address any identified gaps or weaknesses.
2. Improving industry engagement
Education-to-workforce pathways only flourish if there’s buy-in from the business community. Fortunately, Ohio already has a pretty solid foundation. State law requires every school district and education service center to have a Business Advisory Council to advise them on changes in the economy and job market and offer support on how to develop a working relationship with local businesses and labor organizations. The Ohio Industry Sector Partnership Grant funds collaboration between businesses, education and training providers, and community leaders interested in improving regional workforces. And Senate Bill 166, which was passed late last year, offers tax credits to businesses that provide work-based learning experiences for students who are enrolled in an approved CTE pathway.
There’s always room for growth, though, and ExcelinEd recommends that Ohio leaders consider offering additional incentives for employers to participate in work-based learning opportunities. For example, the Governor’s Workforce Board in Rhode Island oversees a Work Immersion program that helps employers train prospective workers through paid internships by reimbursing them at a rate of 50 or 75 percent for wages paid to eligible participants. In Kentucky, the staffing company Adecco partnered with the state department of education and twenty-one school districts to implement a work-based learning program. And in Delaware, a collaboration between education, business, and government leaders produced a statewide program that offers K–12 students the opportunity to complete a program of study aligned with an in-demand career. Each of these programs—or all of them—would be a positive next step for Ohio.
3. Reducing barriers to postsecondary credential attainment
Since state leaders announced a statewide attainment goal in 2016, Ohio has launched a plethora of initiatives aimed at improving credential attainment. TechCred helps Ohioans earn industry-recognized, technology-focused credentials and helps businesses upskill both current and potential employees. The Choose Ohio First Program, which was designed to strengthen Ohio’s competitiveness within STEM disciplines, provides participating colleges and universities with funding to support students in STEM and STEM education fields. And both the Individual Microcredential Assistance Program and the Ohio College Opportunity Grant help low-income Ohioans earn degrees and credentials.
Despite these developments, the state’s most recent annual report on attainment shows that there’s still plenty of work to be done. One way state leaders could further reduce barriers is to implement Last Dollar/Last Mile financial aid programs. These policies provide eligible students with state financial aid that fills in gaps left by federal assistance efforts (like Pell Grants), and promotes attainment for learners who are close to earning a degree. Several states already have such policies in place. For example, Tennessee provides recent high school graduates with a last-dollar scholarship through Tennessee Promise, and provides eligible adults who want to pursue an associate or technical degree or a technical diploma with a last-dollar grant via Tennessee Reconnect.
Ohio has made considerable strides in the last few years with its education-to-workforce pathways. There are dozens of new programs and initiatives aimed at increasing access to educational opportunities, improving attainment numbers, and strengthening Ohio’s workforce. But now isn’t the time for leaders to rest on their laurels. Let’s build on those developments, and implement the suggestions outlined above.