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Career Education Reality #1: It’s a Collegebound Track

In this series, we will be looking at several foundational realities of career-focused education in today’s rapidly changing economy. Today’s blog is about the first reality: why career education is a collegebound track.

College. In that one word, many students and parents see the promise of a great future. Sadly, roughly two-thirds of America’s high school seniors are academically unprepared for college-level coursework. Why is this?

There are many reasons, of course. But one that is often overlooked, in my experience, is that students simply are not seeing the relevance of academics. Many have dreams for what they can do and enjoy in the future, but no one is effectively connecting their aspirations with their academic performance. Others lack not only the relevance piece, but also a clear picture of their goals and desired future. In both cases, these students go off to college academically unprepared because they simply have not seen the Light at the End of their high school Tunnel that would motivate them to prioritize their academic performance.

You would think that a robust high school experience that got students excited about learning, improved their academic performance, increased graduation rates, and prepared students for the rigor of college would be a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, because the robust high school experience I’m talking about is one that includes a career-focused component. And career education as a field is still battling the antiquated myth that students who participate in these programs can’t go to college.

The False Dichotomy

Career education and college are often perceived as two separate and distinct pathways that never cross, that the choice is always one or the other. The false dichotomy this sets up is one of the most pervasive objections to participating in a career-focused program during high school. Because many parents and students believe college is the only surefire way to a great future, they fear the perceived career commitment of career programs. Ironically, this causes them to miss the opportunity for a fully rounded, comprehensive high school experience that will truly prepare them for college success.

The college track has been traditionally compartmentalized as a purely academic pathway, unrelated to technical disciplines. This is changing quickly—in fact, today 78% of high-school CTE concentrators enroll in post-secondary education, which is higher than the overall national average among all high school graduates of approximately 69%. Of that number, 50% of those students go on to complete their degrees—which is also higher than the national average. It’s one of the main points of my upcoming book: strong academics and robust technical learning go hand in hand.

The Career Education Advantage for College

Students who are immersed in rigorous, hands-on learning activities will love going to school—setting the stage for positive postsecondary performance. They’ll achieve their best academically, because they’ve seen the connection between their effort and their goals. Students who are passionate about their future will make the most of their present. Career education improves academic performance and graduation rates by engaging students more deeply in their education, allowing them to choose the pathway that fits their interests and personality. Through career education, high school students can discover what they love to do so that when they head to college, they’re focused on their end goal and ready to succeed. If this isn’t an amazing college prep pathway and competitive advantage, I don’t know what is.

Today’s career-focused educational programs are not the vocational ed of the past that imparted a narrow set of skills for entry-level work. Rather, career education has evolved with technological advances and the demands of a changing, globalizing workforce to prepare young people with the skills of the future. Today, it is the gateway to hundreds of high-demand, high-skilled careers and occupations at all levels of education. For many careers, college is one of those educational levels—and high school career-focused programs can help students not just get there, but succeed when they do.

The simple truth is that career-focused education is a collegebound track. Not just that, but it is one of the most powerful ways to motivate students to improve their academic performance in high school—setting them up for success in college, in career, and in life. Let’s promote this powerful reality to break down the stigmas, improve student academic performance, and transform our educational paradigm.

About the Author
Mark C. Perna Mark C. Perna is the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s passion for making a difference.

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