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Schools expand programs to increase postsecondary opportunities

BUILDING A CAREER PATH—Students participating in the Tennessee Pathways college and career readiness program enjoy work-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships with local manufacturing companies.
BUILDING A CAREER PATH—Students participating in the Tennessee Pathways college and career readiness program enjoy work-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships with local manufacturing companies.

Districts are cultivating college and career readiness programs by allocating more resources to guide students, by building new partnerships and by focusing efforts beyond high school.

Tennessee recently expanded and rebranded its statewide career and college readiness initiative as Tennessee Pathways, which now focuses on K8 in addition to high school.

Part of that effort includes districts and their industry and higher education partners raising awareness of employment paths, says Jerre Maynor, director of student readiness and pathways at the Tennessee Department of Education.

“Students can’t prepare for careers they can’t see,” says Maynor.

Districts with full CTE programs now must give all students access to early career and college opportunities, including apprenticeships, work-based learning, and dual enrollment and AP courses.

The career component focuses on three local industries—advanced manufacturing, IT and health care.

The state Department of Education is also spending $2 million to hire nine regional pathway coordinators to cover every school in the state.

Coordinators will serve as the glue between districts, employers and postsecondary institutions, says Maynor.

Shining a light

Dallas ISD is basing part of its readiness approach on Tennessee’s efforts—in particular Tennessee Promise, a nonprofit that provides two years of tuition-free attendance at a community or technical college.

Dallas County Promise was recently expanded from 31 high schools in the district to 43. The program is now available to 16,000 high school seniors in a district wherein 75 percent of students are economically challenged and need all the social capital they can get, says Eric Ban, the program’s managing director and a former high school principal.

“We’re trying to knock down barriers between the high schools and higher education and the workforce,” says Ban.

Students qualify for free tuition if they complete the federal financial aid application, earn at least 12 college credit hours before graduation, choose a career that’s in demand in North Texas and avoid college remediation.

Dallas County Promise organizes a summer institute for all high school leadership teams and provides ongoing PD.

In turn, districts export their college and career readiness data weekly, which Dallas County Promise combines with FAFSA completion information in a simple spreadsheet format that lets educators see exactly where students are in their postsecondary process.

“We’ve been able to shine the light clearly on what’s happening in the high schools in terms of tracking the college readiness progression,” says Ban.

Thinking beyond graduation

Ultimately, Dallas County Promise focuses on letting every senior know that regardless of income or GPA, they can receive free college tuition, says Ban.

“The simplicity of that message is important for all families, particularly first-generation, low-income families,” he says.

Maynor says Tennessee preaches “advisement and alignment” when it comes to college and career readiness. Districts advise students and align curriculum and career paths to specific workforce and college needs.

“Our state leadership has put a stake in the ground for K12 for postsecondary success,” says Maynor.

“That sends a clear message that we’re thinking beyond graduation, not just handing off the baton to postsecondary institutions and businesses.”