States Look to Career and Technical Education to Boost College Readiness

How can states better ensure that soon-to-be high school graduates are leaving their K–12 education systems ready to succeed in college or the workforce?

For states, finding answers to that policy question has never been more important because of a continuing economic trend—jobs are demanding more and more skills and increasingly requiring some level of postsecondary training.

North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll has made this issue part of the focus of his work as 2015 chair of CSG’s Midwestern Legislative Conference.

Traditional state strategies have included expanding student access to dual-enrollment courses that allow high school students to enroll in college courses, Advanced Placement classes and career academies.

To expand access, states often must first begin by making new or expanded commitments of funding.

Three years ago, for example, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the Career and Technical Education Act, designed to stimulate growth in career and technical education at the secondary and post-secondary levels.

Since the 2011–12 school year, participation in college-level technical education courses has more than doubled, as have the number of students earning industry-recognized credentials and the number of college credit hours being earned.

Under the state-funded Excel in Career Technical Education program, students get free college tuition for taking postsecondary career and technical education courses. School districts are reimbursed for transportation costs and also can receive $1,000 for each of their high school students who earn an industry-recognized credential in a “high-demand, high-wage” occupation, as determined by the state Department of Labor.

The success of Kansas’ program has since captured national attention.

New Proposals in Minnesota, Nebraska
This year, states such as Minnesota and Nebraska are considering their own proposals to strengthen the rigor of high school coursework and to give students more academic options.

Minnesota, in fact, long has been a national leader in dual enrollment. Thirty years ago, it became the first state to allow and provide funding for high school juniors and seniors to take college-level courses.

Today, high school juniors and seniors in Minnesota are able to earn college credits without having to leave their high school campus. These types of classes are known as “concurrent enrollment,” and the number of students participating in them has increased by 24 percent in the state since 2009.

But Minnesota state Sen. Greg Clausen, a principal for 15 years in the Twin Cities area, said the state’s current level of support for the program—$2 million in net aid per year—isn’t enough to address current student demand.

“It’s an underfunded program right now,” said Clausen, who has proposed an increase in state funding to $9 million a year under legislation that he introduced this year. “We allocated [up to] $150 per student registration, and right now, that does not cover the cost. So we have our secondary schools paying out of their general fund.”

Additional state dollars would be used to reimburse school districts, expand the number of courses offered by postsecondary institutions, and pay for teacher and staff development.

The bill also would make 9th- and 10th-graders eligible for concurrent enrollment at the discretion of their local school districts.

Supporters of concurrent enrollment say it not only has added rigor to the high school curriculum, but also has eased the financial burden of Minnesota’s college-bound students and their families.

Clausen cites his own community as an example. Last year, students at five area high schools earned the equivalent of $2.5 million in college credits. Across the state, nearly 209,000 credits were earned and more than $55 million in college tuition saved.

Like Clausen, Nebraska Sen. Rick Kolowski had years of experience working with high school students before joining his state legislature. Among the many lessons he took away from his time as a teacher and principal, he said he learned that by challenging students, you also get them excited about their future.

“We need to work on maximizing the junior and senior years of high school,” Kolowski said. “It is especially important that these students have full, rigorous schedules that get them ready for college or a career.”

He introduced legislation earlier this year that would get the state more involved in delivering a stronger curriculum to these students.

One of the distinguishing features of the bill is its funding model. Money would not flow to local schools based solely on total numbers of students, but rather on how many of those students successfully complete a course or program—for example, by earning professional certification as the result of career and technical training or passing a competency exam in an Advanced Placement course.

Kolowski’s bill also targets funding for dual-enrollment courses and for International Baccalaureate programs.

In order to create a dedicated source of funding outside of Nebraska’s current state-aid formula for K–12 schools, the bill initially would appropriate $7 million from the general fund to reimburse school districts.

The bill also would create a Career and College Readiness Fund to support schools that are in the initial implementation phase of a college and career readiness program.