July 7, 2022
A question that has long vexed American secondary education is whether to prepare students for college or a career. With the creation of the Golden State Pathways Program, California has decided to invest in both.
The state budget sets aside $500 million in competitive grants to establish a new program to ensure students “advance seamlessly from high school to college and career.” Its goal is to help students transition from high school to well-paying, skilled careers. The pathways include A-G course requirements for admission to state universities and the opportunity to earn 12 college credits through dual enrollment, AP or IB classes. Work-based learning must be part of the pathway, and schools must offer support to students along the way.
All of these are familiar ideas. Career technical education in California has been bolstered by federal workforce grants and previous state efforts, such as the California Career Pathways Trust and Career Technical Education Incentive Grant. Dual enrollment has received state funding — the latest budget sets aside $200 million.
What makes the Golden State Pathways Program unique is that it is knitting all of these goals together in a single, integrated program of study for each student.
It sounds like a straightforward goal, but actually achieving that is a tall order, said Linda Collins, founder and executive director of Career Ladders Project, which supports redesigning community colleges to support students.
Helping students make the transitions from high school to college and career demands that K-12 schools, colleges and universities and employers work together, but funding streams tend to silo all those groups. Just the mere fact that higher education and K-12 are funded separately creates barriers.
“Nobody’s job is paying attention to that space,” said Collins.
A major strength of the Golden State Pathways Program is that it attempts to bridge those gaps. School districts and charter schools will be eligible to apply for the program grants, but so will regional occupational centers or a community college working in concert with local K-12 schools.
Proponents say the investment is welcome and sorely needed for a generation of students hit hard by the pandemic, especially low-income students and communities.
Separating the path to college and career has often meant that Black, Latino and low-income students end up tracked for lower-income occupations while others are deemed “college material,” said Collins. That’s why she said it’s so important that every student be prepared for both college and career.
“What’s at the heart of that is an equity question,” said Collins.
How the pathways are implemented is key. Dual enrollment, which is a piece of the pathway puzzle, has the power to transform educational outcomes, but the pathways are still not being offered equitably in high schools, Collins said.