Policymakers Gather to Discuss Postsecondary Education Strategies

On July 27, state legislators and postsecondary officials attended the CSG Policy Academy on Innovative Delivery Models in Postsecondary Education addressing new strategies in postsecondary education as part of the CSG West Annual Meeting held in Vail, Colorado.

The chair and vice-chair of the CSG West Education and Workforce Development Committee – Rep. Wendy Horman, Idaho and Sen. Bill Soules, New Mexico—welcomed the group and spoke about the critical importance of taking students to degree completion.  Keynote speaker Jennifer Freeman, program director at Jobs for the Future, an organization that strives to “ensure that all underprepared young people and workers have the skills and credentials needed to succeed in our economy,” provided a broader perspective of the obstacles facing postsecondary education’s relationship with the general workforce, namely the widespread absence of occupational skills for current college students and recent graduates.

Freeman reiterated this point by citing a Gallup poll which stated that although 96 percent of college and university administrators said they are extremely or somewhat confident in their institution’s ability to prepare students for the workforce, only 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree that today’s college graduates have the skills their businesses need.  Two solutions for this apparent disconnect are early employer involvement and engaging employers in teaching and learning, specifically forming sector partnerships in certain areas.

In addition to deeper employment engagement, several states have introduced pathways to prosperity networks, initiatives designed to better effectively align high school and postsecondary education with the workforce.  In conjunction with rigorous academic standards, these career pathways should help bridge the divide between postsecondary educational attainment and key welfare demands.

Following Ms. Freeman’s presentation, a panel comprised of representatives from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Education Commission of the States, and College in Colorado discussed competency-based models (CBE) and prior learning assessments (PLA).  CBE models award credits based on a demonstration of mastering required competencies in a certain area while PLAs are awarded to students who may have received their learning from on-the-job training, military service, or relevant certifications.

These models have yielded positive results, most notably greatly increasing the likelihood of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.  Because of more stringent educational requirements for employment and generally high levels of attrition among college students, PLA and CBE models offer a more fiscally responsible option for adults who may have a wealth of practical experience but no degree.

Following these more nationally-focused presentations, California’s efforts tackling college and career pathways were specifically discussed, with panelists from the state’s Department of Education and postsecondary and business representatives from the East Bay. 

Created in 2013, the California Career Pathways Trust was designed to prepare students for college and careers by connecting employers to students and training these students in high demand fields.  Initially allocated $250 million by the state legislature, the trust allows local school districts, county education offices, charter schools, and community college districts to apply for a one-time only grant up to $15 million, $6 million or $600,000.

Due to the overwhelming number of strong grant applications, funding was reauthorized by the legislature for the following year.  Successful applicants have targeted high-need industries ranging from medical technology and engineering to digital media, and business partners including Time Warner, Boeing, Tyson Foods, Bayer, and Intel. 

In addition to the $250 million allocated annually, an additional $4.2 million in developmental grants have been awarded to eight school districts for the sole purpose of planning effective career programs in the future and assisting interested groups in examining the feasibility of creating career pathways in their districts.

While this program is in its early stages, education officials and local business leaders are confident that this sort of proactive action will help adequately prepare students for the challenges facing them in an ever-changing economy.

The final presentation of the day came from Dr. Edith Gummer, director of education research at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.  Dr. Gummer demonstrated a new software program known as EdWise, a program designed to make publicly available data more accessible and aggregate this data by both school district and individual school.

Dr. Gummer described the necessity of a comparison software program like EdWise because more often than not, certain educational information has been taken out of context and used as a tool of misleading by special interest groups.  Rather than comparing a school district in a relatively affluent area to one in the inner city, this program allows for education officials and policymakers to truly compare similar institutions by filtering out certain socioeconomic and demographic factors.

More information about the session can be found here.