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After the epidemic, people in the field of education are more open to revisiting traditional ways of doing business to better serve students.
One idea that has been gaining traction since last year is to break down barriers between high school, college and career to create a system that bridges all three.
The concept is called “Big Blair”.
Recently, Big Blair was the subject of numerous conversations during a national conference hosted by Jobs for the Future (JFF) in New Orleans, where it was the subject of a panel discussion between industry leaders and two JFF officials: Joel Vargas, the organization’s program vice president, and Kyle Hartung. Associate Vice President.
In a July 2021 report, the two proposed to modernize our secondary and post-secondary education and training systems and “blend in with the last two years of high school in the first two years of college to become more strongly connected to the world of work and career.” According to Vargas, who, along with Hartung, was one of the authors of the report.
“What would it be like to change the design of what we think of as conventional high school experience and what is designed for the modern economy instead?” Says Vargas.
Vargas says JFF is arguing for new programs or institutions that serve students in grades 11 to 14 (the first two years of 13th and 14th grade colleges under our current configuration). Institutions will be co-designed with regional employers to ensure that all students have work-based learning experience and graduation – without tuition costs – including a post-secondary certificate with a labor market value.
Hartung said it is important to help families understand that there are multiple paths to success and that four-year college is just one of many. “Keeping all your chips alone has not played well for the younger generation and it has created a lasting inequality, a lack of wealth creation that is sustaining itself,” he said.
The JFF report K-12 has begun discussions in the workforce on promoting higher education and change at the local level, said Brent Parton, chief deputy assistant secretary and current acting assistant secretary of the US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA). )
The next step, he said, is for people to think about how this ambiguity can occur on a scale. That’s where the federal leadership comes in. ” He said the ETA is working closely with the Department of Education and Commerce to promote the concept and encourage state and local communities to break down barriers between these systems.
Parton said the epidemic challenges – including high student absenteeism and isolation – have sparked more interest in the conversation.
“This is forcing the K-12 to think differently in a way out of necessity,” Parton said. “In Higher AD you see a strong labor market, wages rising. There is an exploration of how higher education can become more fluidly involved with people who are already in the workplace [and] Help them improve. “
His staff is beginning to see states take steps to prepare young people for careers at an earlier age, he said, in an effort to start a registered teaching profession apprenticeship program in Tennessee.
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, Hartung added that states and communities have the funds and resources to try new approaches.
“Waiting until college and hoping that a dysfunctional career center will straighten them out is not just a winning proposition. We need to launch our career ideas a long time ago.”
Kate Swinburne, president of the non-profit organization YouthForce NOLA
Vargas noted that the Big Blair concept is not entirely new. States like Texas, Louisiana, Delaware, Illinois and Colorado already have programs.
In New Orleans, for example, Youthforce Nola is part of a city-wide effort to help bridge the gap between school and workforce, according to Kate Swinburn, president of the nonprofit organization. YouthForce is an education, business and civic partner that helps New Orleans public school students prepare for the path to career needs.
The organization partners with city schools to place students on paid internships with employers in “high-wage, high-demand” careers. Students participate in the Career Pathway Program of Study, through which they become acquainted with different careers, build relevant skills with that career, develop their professional network, and gain work experience as they graduate from high school.
Swinburne, who also addressed the panel during the JFF-Organizing Conference, said that when asked about what young people and their parents look like after high school graduation success, they mentioned four key themes: happiness, prosperity, stability and financial independence.
“If we are going to help our young people gain economic mobility, a career path must be a part of a great job,” says Swinburn. “Waiting until college and hoping that a dysfunctional career center will straighten them out is not just a winning proposition. We need to launch our career ideas a long time ago.”
In Texas and Delaware, the Big Blair is happening at a more structured, at-scale level.
Some of Texas’ early-college high schools, which allow high school students to earn up to two years of college credit, are the result of a three-agency effort between the Texas Department of Education, the Higher Education and the Workforce Commission. Although few schools currently offer elementary-college programs, Vargas said these schools are becoming “a significant part of their high school system.”
In 2015, Delaware created the “Delaware Pathways” program, combining education with workforce training to provide students with training in a variety of jobs. The program is a collaborative effort between the state’s Department of Labor, Education and Higher Education, as well as local foundations, businesses and nonprofits. In 2016, the program enrolled about 50 students, but has now expanded across the state, and according to Hartung, is set to enroll 80 percent of the state’s high school population in the next two years.
Big blurring nationally, and on a scale, will not be easy. Since separate systems – high school, college and career training – are so intertwined, leaders from the three sectors need to collaborate and rethink what it should be like to get a high school diploma or college degree and enter the workforce. According to Parton, another big challenge is messaging.
“We need to communicate very clearly what this is and the price offer,” Parton said. “People go to what they know for sure or at least what can be confirmed.”
He added that in order to bring parents to the board, they need to see young people benefiting, including gaining a high school diploma, access to work-based learning opportunities that pay and earn a post-secondary certificate.
Vargas added that a mandatory case has been created for Big Blair through facilities already offered by early-college high schools, where students take free college coursework at the beginning and then transfer the credits to a four-year institution to save money, according to Vargas. , A connection to learning on the job through an employment opportunity or apprentice-type program.
“These two things together,” he said, “make sense of it all.”
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