U.S. Department of Education encouraging more pathways to success for high schoolers

Helping high school students earn college credits, receive personalized career and college counseling, engage in work-based learning and achieve industry credentials is of growing interest to education leaders as well as employers.

A June 1 webinar, “Growing Pathways to Success: Reimagining Career & College Opportunities,” hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, considered the need to prepare teenagers for future career paths and how preK-12 and higher educators and members of the workforce can collaborate and redesign the transition from high school to college and career.

As Amy Loyd, senior advisor for the Education Department, noted, being able to explore their interests early on is a great benefit to students.

Postsecondary credentials are becoming increasingly essential to success in today’s economy, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona added, because a “high school diploma is no longer an automatic ticket to the middle class.”

Career education gives students a “why” behind their learning and builds on the proposed investment in career connected high schools from President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget, Cardona said.

Students and parents shared the positive effects that early hands-on experiences have had on college and career planning during the event. Employers who are working with local educational agencies and colleges spoke as well.

Sonya Christian, chancellor at Kern Community College District in California’s central valley, outlined how her district has partnered with area high schools to ensure that every student completes a college education plan and enrolls in college classes, as well as how partnerships with local businesses and industry provide work-based learning opportunities in in-demand fields.

“At Kern CCD where we serve rural students, first generation college going students, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, we prioritize pathways that lead to more equitable outcomes for all of our students,” Christian said.

Time is of the essence

“If ever there was a time to reimagine pathways that lead to strong futures, it’s now,” said Roberto Rodriguez, assistant secretary for policy and planning at the Education Department. This is as the country continues to emerge from the first few years of the COVID-19 pandemic, where unprecedented shifts took place in the education and employment realms.

Rodriguez explained the five core pillars of a career-connected education strategy, the first being that every student should have a pathway to college and the “preparation that he or she needs through rigorous college prep courses to get a head start toward that path while still in high school.”

“At a moment where postsecondary enrollment is declining, dual enrollment represents an important tool to reconnect high school students with a pathway to college and career success,” Rodriguez added.

Dual enrollment students are more likely to pursue college and finish their degree, he said.

Pillars two, three and four are work-based learning; helping students make progress toward industry credentials; and college and career advising and navigation.

Pillar five is systems, strategies and capacity building, which is “about creating a system that eliminates transition barriers and develops,” Rodriguez explained.

To rethink the structures of instruction, there will need to be strong partnerships between educators and employers, he said. And educators will need the appropriate professional development.

What schools can do

Interested LEAs can email pathways@ed.gov to follow up on relevant innovations in their districts or to seek advice from the Education Department.

Tips for expanding pathways include:

  • School counselors meeting with students about chances for paid work-based learning and information on college classes.
  • Forming a parent committee to advocate for all students to graduate with a pathway plan.
  • Educators connecting their lessons with local careers and encouraging students to talk with school counselors about available opportunities.
  • Principals developing relationships with leaders from the area chamber of commerce and community college as well as finding training for school counselors around career counseling.
  • Superintendents using funding, such as American Rescue Plan dollars, to set goals for their LEA related to establishing or strengthening pathways.
  • And postsecondary institutions connecting with surrounding high schools to work on dual enrollment and coordinate on a “work-based learning continuum and program of study development that span grades 9-14.”