Quality worked-based learning in high school

Quality work-based learning experiences for disadvantaged high school students that cultivate positive relationships with adults can shape job quality later in their lives, according to a new study.

The study, which examined pathways to high-quality jobs for young adults, noted many expected ties to job quality, such as postsecondary education and work experience. But it added that work experiences of teens seemed to develop a stronger pathway to good jobs later in life, according to the study by the Brookings Institution and Child Trends.

“Participating in a cooperative education, internship, apprenticeship or mentorship program in high school is related to subsequent job quality,” the study says. “The relationship built between participants and adults set these programs apart from other career-related high school activities, like job shadowing, career majors and tech prep, which we find are not related to job quality.”

However, the researchers on the study noted that they did not have many details about the quality or intensity of these work-based learning experiences in high school.

The results of the study don’t necessarily offer new insight, noted Martha Ross, a fellow at Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, yet they often are not included in the design of new programs that target this population.

Making connections

During a panel discussion Monday on the results of the study, participants observed that partnerships with employers and postsecondary institutions are critical to help high school students feel like they can go to college. Career pathways, dual-enrollment programs and career academies were cited as ways to expose students to the college environment and the rigors of courses.

But it’s just as important for colleges to help disadvantaged high school students understand that they can go to college, even if they don’t think they can afford it, according to the panel. Officials can explain to students not only about student aid, but that colleges also offer support services such as tutoring, transportation and other help that can keep them on track, said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C. Employers can take a page from colleges and also explore offering such supports for entry-level workers so they can advance their skills and work up the career ladder, she added.

‘I was really lost’

Cynthia Gross, a graduate of the Per Scholas program who now works on desktop support at New America, said knowing that such supports were available in college could have helped her. She said that after high school she didn’t know what she wanted to do and attended a local community college part time. Even working two jobs, she could barely make ends meet.

“I was really lost,” she said during the panel discussion. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

A friend recommended she take the Per Scholas program, which was free of charge. It required a commitment to attend courses for 10 week, 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. Five months later, she had the IT job with New America, and she hopes to continue on with college to help her advance in her career.

Seeking role models

McGuire noted that her college is trying to work more closely with the local school system to help students realize the academic requirements for certain jobs. For example, many local students come to her college seeking to become nurses, yet they don’t realize the job requires calculus, anatomy and other science courses.

Often, disadvantaged students don’t have role models in these professions, so they don’t get to experience firsthand what skills and experiences are required, McGuire said. It’s another area where employers can step in to help.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.