NC To Create New “Pathways To Prosperity” For High School Students

Collaboration Among Employers, Educators and Policymakers Needed to Lead Students from Education to Careers

Of the approximately 91,000 North Carolina high school students who received their diplomas this spring, more than three-fourths say they plan to move on to a two- or four-year college or university. But by the time they reach their mid-twenties, only about half of them will have earned a college degree if past trends continue. There are many reasons for this, but the college completion rate speaks to the need for alternative pathways to help young people prepare for their future success.

In February 2011, the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) released Pathways to Prosperity:  Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, which challenges the premise that all students should seek a four-year college degree. The report argues that we need to create additional pathways that combine rigorous academics with strong technical education to equip young people with the skills and credentials to succeed in an increasingly competitive labor market.

The enormous interest generated by the Pathways report has led to the launch of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a collaboration between HGSE, Jobs for the Future (JFF) and six states (including North Carolina) committed to ensuring that many more young people complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with value in the labor market, and get launched on a career while leaving open the prospect of further education.

To accomplish this goal, the North Carolina State Board of Education will engage with employers and educators to build career pathways systems for high school students. Each state will be led by a coalition of key public and private sector leaders committed to mobilizing and sustaining political and financial support for the agenda and addressing legislative or regulatory barriers that inhibit progress. The work will initially focus on the northeast and southeast regions of North Carolina, but the long-term goal is to create a statewide system of career pathways that can serve a majority of students.

“North Carolina young people need a variety of opportunities to prepare themselves for careers and to successfully transition to adulthood,” said Bill Harrison, chairman of the State Board of Education. “Pathways to Prosperity offers students an enhanced alternative to traditional community college or university preparation.”

Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina and co-chairwoman of a leadership team for the Pathways initiative, said the effort promises to benefit students and the state’s economy.

“Everyone wins when business and industry join with public schools and higher education to create a seamless approach to graduating students ready for careers and equipped with the skills required for success,” said Marshall. Jeff Corbett, a senior vice president of Progress Energy, will join Marshall as co-chairman of the leadership team.

Other states that have joined the Pathways to Prosperity Network are Maine, Missouri and Tennessee.  This multi-state, multi-year initiative is managed by Jobs for the Future and co-led by Robert Schwartz, Pathways report co-author and HGSE Professor of Practice, and Nancy Hoffman, vice-president and senior advisor at JFF.

“The recent adoption by most states of the Common Core standards represents long-overdue recognition of the need for a more uniform national academic currency,” said JFF’s Hoffman. “The Common Core is supposed to signal college and career readiness, but ‘career’ has not received the attention it needs, especially given college costs and the demands of the 21st century economy.”

“It is long past time that we broaden the range of high quality pathways that we offer to our young people, beginning in high school,” added Schwartz. “The lessons from other countries strongly suggest that this might be the single most promising strategy for greatly increasing the percentage of young adults who earn a post-secondary degree or credential that prepares them to embark on a meaningful career.”

The State Board of Education has engaged JFF to provide technical assistance to help them carry out this work. The NC New Schools Project will support the State Board in its efforts to assess gaps in the system and identify the tools and policy outcomes needed to create a seamless workforce development system statewide. JFF and HGSE are seeking private funds to support the development of the network, beginning with a two-day institute for state and regional teams to be held at Harvard in the fall. The North Carolina Community College system also is a partner in this work.

The Pathways to Prosperity framework includes the following elements of a pathways system:

  • Employers committed to providing learning opportunities at the workplace and supporting the transition of young people into the labor market.
  • Career pathways with clear structures, timelines, costs, and requirements linking and integrating high school and community college curriculum and aligning both with labor market needs.
  • An early and sustained career information and advising system strong enough to enable students and families to make informed choices about educational career paths.
  • Local or regional intermediary organizations to provide the infrastructure and support for the development of such pathways.

About Jobs for the Future
Jobs for the Future aligns education with today’s high-demand careers. With its partners, JFF develops policy solutions and new pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for struggling and low-income populations in America.

About NC State Board of Education
North Carolina’s State Board of Education sets policies subject to the laws enacted by North Carolina’s General Assembly. The 13-member Board includes citizens from all eight regions of North Carolina and also the Lieutenant Governor and the State Treasurer. The Board administers a system of 115 school districts, more than 2,500 schools and 100 public charter schools.

About the NC New Schools Project
The North Carolina New Schools Project is a statewide public-private partnership that sparks sustainable innovation in North Carolina secondary schools. Its vision is to ensure every student graduates ready for college, careers and life. The North Carolina New Schools Project partners with school districts, businesses and higher education to link innovation in education to the emerging economy.

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 100 charter schools serving over 1.4 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state’s public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.