Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Everyone Can Find Their Own Educational Pathway if We Remove Barriers and Create Opportunities

Everyone’s journey from education to the workforce is unique. Even though we often talk about a more traditional learner path—graduate high school, earn a college degree in four years, get a job—we all know that isn’t reality. In fact, around 60% of high school graduates enroll in college and only 62% of them graduate within six years.  

So what happens to everyone else? Some learners earn an industry credential in high school and build on it with an associate degree. Others pursue an apprenticeship connecting them directly to a career. The unfortunate reality though is too many learners go straight to the workforce and struggle to earn a living wage.  

Why does this problem exist? Any number of reasons: lack of information, lack of opportunity, and/or lack of funding to name a few. The reason we are going to focus on today is the lack of supportive state policies.  

The Critical Role of State Policy 

Though state policies are not something most folks think about daily, state policies play a critical role in creating opportunities and dismantling barriers for learners. State policies can provide access to dual enrollment opportunities; create programs that offer tuition support for college; and/or ensure earned credit is maintained when transferring to a new college. Pathways Matter, a policy framework recently developed by ExcelinEd, outlines how states can make sure all learners are supported across their unique pathway and ensure there are no gaps in policy for learners to fall through.  

Policy in the Context of Alex’s Journey from Education to the Workforce 

PathwaysMatter.org showcases three learner journeys to highlight how policies supported them along their path from education to workforce. Here we will take a closer look at Alex’s journey—both with and without strong policies in place. This hypothetical, yet real-world example, brings to life the ways policies can support learners and how the lack of policy can severely hinder them.  

With Strong Policies 

Alex’s high school was unique. It was located on the campus of the local community college (an early college high school). Over the course of her high school career she was able to obtain a year’s worth of postsecondary credit through dual enrollment courses and advanced placement—all at no cost to her (Key Policies: College Acceleration and High-Quality CTE Programs).  

Her school provided multiple ways for students to show they were ready for advanced coursework, opening up opportunities for numerous of learners. Having these credits under her belt helped Alex gain the confidence she needed to feel that college really was for her.  

Alex enrolled as a full-time student at the community college and then transferred to the state’s flagship university. All of her credits transferred to count toward her major as she had taken advantage of courses that were within a formally laid out transfer pathway (Key Policy: College Articulation Agreements).  

While in college, a professor connected Alex to an internship program run through the local chamber of commerce giving her the opportunity to intern at a local engineering firm (Key Policy: Industry Engagement Incentives). Having this real-world experience helped to bring meaning to her courses and allowed her to develop a network to reach out to when it was time to start the job hunt (Key Policy: Work-Based Learning).  

Alex secured a job as a project manager at a civil engineering firm immediately following graduation.  

Without Strong Policies 

Alex’s high school offered dual enrollment and advanced placement courses, but she often felt that teachers only talked to “the smart kids” about these opportunities. One teacher finally suggested that Alex should take the dual enrollment physics course, as she was always interested in buildings and structures. The course was hard, but Alex was able to pass the challenge exam to get postsecondary credit.  

Having to pay out of pocket for the textbooks and the lab fee, however, meant that Alex’s parents could only afford to have her take one more dual enrollment course. After high school Alex wanted to go to a four-year college on the other side of the state and was disheartened to realize that the two postsecondary credits she had earned didn’t count at this school.  

This was a real blow to Alex’s motivation and confidence. Since she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do she decided to go work at her Aunt’s restaurant. She figured she could always go back to school later.  

See the in-depth look at Jordan and Taylor’s journeys on ExcelinEd’s blog 

Policy from the Parent Perspective 

Building on Alex’s hypothetical story, let’s look a little closer at two of the policies that were key to Alex’s success—College Acceleration and College Articulation Agreements—and questions parents can ask to ensure their children are set up for success.  

 College AccelerationCollege Articulation Agreements
DefinitionProvide and incentivize a range of options for learners to earn college credit while in high school. Ensure that all learners have access and financial support to accelerate their journey to a postsecondary credential.Establish statewide articulation agreements to ensure college credits earned in K–12 or at one institution transfer and count toward a degree at another. Minimize or eliminate credit loss and misalignment for transitioning learners.
Why is this policy so important?Learners who participate in college acceleration opportunities are more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, earn college degrees on time and have reduced college costs. Despite these many benefits and the long history of success, many states fall short delivering quality, value, access and equity with their college acceleration programs and offerings—especially for rural and low-income learners and learners of color.Unfortunately, some college acceleration or transfer course credits fail to convert into meaningful postsecondary credit for learners. These “stranded credits”—credits that are not applicable toward a learner’s chosen pathway or accepted at their postsecondary institution—waste valuable time and resources for both the learner and state. Though articulation or transfer agreements are fairly common, they often vary across schools, districts and postsecondary institutions and are simply not comprehensive enough to be meaningful.
Questions Parents Should AskWhat college acceleration options are available at my student’s high school? AP, IB, Dual Enrollment? Are those the same or different at neighboring high schools? Are there multiple ways to determine if my student is ready for college acceleration courses? Is funding available for the college acceleration courses and exams?If my student earns credit from their college acceleration opportunities (AP, IB, Dual Enrollment, etc.), will it be accepted for credit at all public colleges/universities in the state? If my student wants to transfer from a two-year to a four-year college or university will all their earned credits transfer?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s likely there’s a gap in state policy resulting in barriers for your child. It’s imperative parents like you ask schools, community leaders and policymakers these kinds of questions and insist on turning no’s into yes’s.

Have a question about what constitutes strong education to workforce policies or how you can get involved? Let us know at [email protected]

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Adriana Harrington
Adriana Harrington is the Policy Director of Innovation for ExcelinEd. Adriana previously worked at the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), most recently serving as the Director of Project Management for the Division of Consolidated Planning and Monitoring and the Division of School Improvement. In this role, Adriana led the department’s statewide school improvement initiatives to increase student outcomes in schools performing in the bottom 5%. She also served as the Program Manager of Student Readiness for the TDOE’s Division of College, Career and Technical Education. Adriana was a high school social studies teacher in Memphis for several years and a Teach For America corps member. Adriana earned a bachelor's in History from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's of public policy from Duke University.

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