Youth CareerConnect Program: An Opportunity to Redefine the High School Experience and Increase College and Career Readiness

The Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a Webinar titled “Youth CareerConnect Program: An Opportunity to Redefine the High School Experience and Increase College and Career Readiness” on December 18, 2013. This Webinar provided information about the U.S. Department of Labor’s Youth CareerConnect (YCC) grant program and approaches to secondary school reform within the context of the program. The Webinar also explored strategies designed to increase the amount of students who are ready for careers and college. Camsie McAdams, Senior Advisor for STEM Education in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education; Dr. Gary Hoachlander, President of ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career; Jason Tyszko, Senior Director of Education and Workforce Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; and JD Hoye, President of the  National Academy Foundation (NAF); Dr. Charmaine Mercer, Vice President of Policy, Alliance for Excellent Education; and discussed promising practices and partnerships between various stakeholders and shared effective models and recent state initiatives.

McAdams led the conversation with a detailed overview of the collaboration between the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Education to develop the YCC grant program. This program is aimed at providing high school students with education and training that combines academic and technical curricula with a specific focus on in-demand industries and careers. In order to be eligible for funding, grantees must meet criteria around the program design (e.g. using a small learning community approach, ensuring there are articulation agreements with post-secondary institutions, and focusing on the STEM industries) and core program elements (e.g. work-based learning work experience, individualized career and academic counseling and program sustainability).  Additionally, grantees at minimum must demonstrate a strong public/private partnership with a local education agency, a local workforce investment system entity, an employer, and an institution of higher education. McAdams described the desired results from this grant program which include high graduation rates; increased earning of industry recognized credentials; and more high school students earning credit towards a post-secondary degree or certificate. In order to achieve these goals, she highlighted the need for robust program evaluation built into the programs. 

An example of an approach that meets the criteria of the YCC grant program is Linked Learning Pathways. This specific approach, which Dr. Hoachlander discussed, is operationalized as a small learning community within a large school or even a smaller themed school. Each pathway includes several components: a rigorous academic core emphasizing real world applications, a technical core of courses meeting industry standards, a systematic approach to work based learning, and providing certification and student supports. In addition, this approach is focused on three main objectives: implement high quality, certified pathways in each school; develop district and community infrastructure in order to improve, expand and ultimately sustain pathways; and attain large student participation at both school and district levels.

Illinois also has a Career Pathways initiative which involves employers and the community through a collective impact strategy to support youth and adult programs that empower learners to explore STEM fields. Tyszko described this initiative as one which stresses the importance of fully integrated academic and career instruction (Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, career and technical education standards); work-based learning; and stackable credentials. They have established a network of regional intermediaries that represent public institutions, employers and community stakeholders that work together to support the delivery and implementation of pathways initiatives. Tyzko also provided a number of recommendations for YCC grantees which included, defining the regional economic development objects, labor market information and institutions and organizations to partner with; conducting baseline assessments of capacity, resources and challenges; and securing strong employer buy-in and engagement from critical partners.

Lastly, Hoye discussed how the NAF has not only invested in initiatives like YCC, but has collaborated with industry partners to embed appropriate curriculum. In doing so, they have clarified standards of work-based learning, how to measure learning against those standards and how to ensure credentials are valued by both industry and postsecondary institutions. Although there have been some challenges with the disconnect between the experience, as people often don’t look at work-based learning as a connected set of activities that amplify what is happening in the classroom, there has been a wealth of data collected that shows great impact. More specifically, data has shown that those participating in pathways programs are out performing their peers that are not involved in these types of programs when it comes to retention, credits, and graduation rates.

Patrice Fabel is a research assistant with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.

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