Career and technical education (CTE) by its nature lends itself very well to guided pathways, says Vicki Karolewics, president of Wallace State Community College (WSCC) in Alabama.
“It starts with building a foundation of knowledge, and then other competencies are developed on top of that foundation,” she says. “CTE has always occurred in sequences in a planned course of study.”
This fall, WSCC fully implemented a guided pathways framework with four meta-majors that incorporate certificates and associate degree programs. When new students meet an advisor, they are given a program map outlining all courses within their chosen pathway, says Karolewics, who serves on the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors.
WSCC, along with all of the colleges discussed in this article, participated in the first round of the AACC Pathways Project. These colleges also begin their pathways work with high school students.
Karolesics compares pathways to lanes in a swimming pool. “If they change lanes, they never stop swimming upstream.” Students in an allied health pathway, for example, who start out wanting to be respiratory assistants wouldn’t lose momentum if they change to a physical therapy major, because all the academic work would be the same.
Fast track to industry
About 150 high school students are enrolled in WSCC’s Fast Track to Industry program, which allows them to simultaneously earn an associate degree in a CTE field and a high school diploma.
Fast Track students take college-level CTE classes at Wallace whenever the classes are available and take high school courses at their own pace in a computer-based learning environment staffed by high school teachers in a dedicated building on the WSCC campus. The center is open daily 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is equipped with sofas and small-group seating conducive to flexible, independent learning.
Programs available in the Fast Track program include EMT, welding, collision repair, automotive technology, diesel technology, agriculture, horticulture, machine tool technology and computer numerical control (CNC).
Rehau, a German plastic injection molding company that produces parts for a nearby Mercedes plant, brought training specialists to Alabama to replicate the German apprenticeship model. There are eight high school seniors working at Rehau as paid polymer specialist apprentices while enrolled in the machine tool program at Wallace State.
Karolewics believes it’s critical to incorporate CTE – along with skill sets that employers value – into pathways.
“In today’s economy, college credits are increasingly fungible,” she says. “To the extent we can embed certifications into those program maps, we can add value to that experience and to the wages students can command as college graduates.”
The implementation of a pathways model at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee, which started two years ago, “has been transformational for us,” says President Bill Seymour.
Reorienting everything the college does to a focus on student success was a significant change, Seymour says. The attitude among staff now is, “We need to be teaching not what we want to teach but what students really need.”
Cleveland State has already established seven “learning communities” and curriculum maps. Students pursuing certificates enter the same learning community as students seeking an associate degree. The next steps, to be implemented in August, include bringing pathways to scale and restructuring class schedules to include four-day weeks.
The idea, Seymour says, is “to get them on a pathway, keep them on a pathway and ensure they will be successful.”
The pathways at Cleveland State actually start in high school. Students who earn enough college credits in the ninth and 10th grades can enroll in the college when they’re still in the 11th or 12th grade at half the tuition cost.
Currently, a cohort of 35 students at Cleveland High School are earning college credits and have a choice of pursuing a degree in mechatronics or business. Another cohort will start next year, and Cleveland State hopes to develop similar partnerships with two other high schools.
Students who graduate from the CTE track in high school will be able to apply to a Mechatronics Honors Institute that Cleveland State hopes to launch in August. The 12 to 15 students accepted to the institute will work for one of the college’s business partners three days a week, earning about $13.50 an hour, while completing their studies.
The program will ensure employers get the right people with the right skills, Seymour says. He compares the concept to the NFL draft, where companies will choose the honor student they want to hire, based on interviews and hands-on assessments.
Students who participate would be expected to continue with the company after they complete an associate degree.
So far, two companies have agreed to participate in the Mechatronics Honors Institute: Denso Manufacturing, which makes electronic products for cars, and McKee Foods, which produces Little Debbie snack cakes.
College staff will work with employers to make sure the classroom work is connected with what students need to know on the job.
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) has a career pathways structure beginning with a dual-credit program for high school students with embedded, stackable credentials tied to the job market.
Every credential is tied to a career cluster – such as health sciences or finance – and each pathway leads from high school to college, to a job or transfer to a four-year school, and then to a better job, says Lori Suddick, vice president for learning.
Workforce focus groups helped define the entry-level job for each certificate, and NWTC uses labor market data to match training programs to employer needs.
A student can earn 14 credits and a certificate as a CNC helper in high school that qualifies them for an entry-level job in manufacturing. Those credits would count toward a one-year certificate in machine tool operation and a two-year technical diploma in CNC technology.
Students from any of the 36 high schools served in NWTC’s service area can take certain courses for dual credit, which count toward a degree when they enroll at the college. Some of those courses are delivered by high school faculty using NWTC’s curriculum. For other courses, such as nursing, NWTC faculty are placed in high schools.
Rural school districts are encouraged to form consortia to work with the college. The North Woods Regional Technical Academy, for example, provides dual-enrollment programs for three high schools leading to nursing assistant, entrepreneurship, welding, automotive technology, electromechanical technology and photography credentials. The school districts pay students’ college tuition and fees.
Because the school districts can’t afford the equipment for CTE training, NWTC invested more than $500,000 to equip the four regional high school academies.
NWTC also brings mobile labs in electromechanical technology and integrated manufacturing to high schools. Mobile labs in information technology and smart grid technology are being set up.
A path to completion
Paris Junior College in Texas fully implemented a pathways structure this fall. Program maps that include stackable credentials have been completed, and success coaches are in place, reports President Pamela Anglin, a member of the AACC board of directors.
In Texas, ninth graders are required to select one of six career paths, called an “endorsement,” in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), business and industry, public services, arts and humanities, or multidisciplinary studies. To help high school students identify an endorsement, PJC sends counselors to the high schools to host career exploration sessions.
PJC’s career pathways – set up to align with the high school endorsements – are in STEM, social and behavioral sciences, public services, arts and humanities, business, industry and health careers.
High school students in a dual-credit program can start taking courses within one of PJC’s program maps linked to their endorsement and complete a certificate by the time they graduate from high school, Anglin says. After they earn a diploma, they can enroll at PJC with some credits already under their belts.
All of PJC’s program maps identify learning outcomes, marketable skills and career opportunities. Success coaches identify milestones as students progress and intervene if they hit an obstacle.
As students move along a pathway, they start to narrow down their career choice to a specific program. For example, in the health pathway, options include allied health, nursing aid, medical records coding, radiology technician, surgical technician, nursing and emergency medical technician.
Students on the industry pathway have opportunities for internships in mechatronics at several companies. Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Campbell Soup Co. pay the tuition of student interns.
PJC has trouble retaining mechatronics students as they tend to be offered jobs before they graduate at starting salaries of about $25 an hour. For those with an associate degree, the annual starting pay is $45,000 to $60,000.
When students and parents start to see the program maps and career opportunities in workforce programs, Anglin believes those programs will grow over the next few years. She also expects to see “substantial improvements in our student success measures.”
To encourage more high school students to take dual-enrollment courses, the college hosts Jobs for the Future events to help them understand emerging opportunities in such areas as coding, cybersecurity and mechatronics.
About 1,600 of PJC’s 5,000 students are dual enrolled, and the state is pushing to increase that, Anglin says. “For us to have the workforce we need for the future, it has to happen.”
Anglin is confident the college’s pathways work will help it meet the statewide 60x30TX goal, which calls for 60 percent of the state’s population age 25 to 34 to have a college credential by 2030.
Currently, 48 percent of Texans in that age group have a college credential, and in the region served by PJC, it’s only 20 percent, Anglin says. “That’s why pathways are so important for us,” she says.