College and Career Ready: Is It the Same Thing?

Posted on: Thu, 09/07/2017 - 09:00

“College and Career Ready” is a term we frequently use to describe the desired outcome for a student graduating from high school. However, we seldom define the term consistently. Consequently, educators, parents, students, and business leaders often interpret what that phrase means in different ways. Legislation in Maryland defines the term as “ready to enter a credit bearing course in college.” In most cases, it’s measured by a single test score. (If only it was that simple in practice!)

There was a time in education when “college ready” and “career ready” were two different things. High school students who wished to attend college followed a program that emphasized content related to college entrance requirements. Students who were “career ready” often took business courses or received vocational training. There was a perception that college preparatory programs were more rigorous than vocational programs. It was also considered acceptable for a high school graduate to be either college OR career ready.

As the year 2000 approached, there was a concern that with the dawn of the Information Age, jobs would be automated and all students would need to attend college if they wished to succeed in earning a livable wage. Vocational programs were transformed into Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs that were designed to be more rigorous, and many were college preparatory as well. High school graduates were expected to be college AND career ready, a subtle yet substantive change.

In the 21st Century, the rise of careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields due to technological advances has caused another reexamination of what the outcome for a high school student should be. As many college graduates struggle to find a job or find themselves earning lower wages than skilled laborers, the new reality is that college alone is no longer the answer. Technical expertise is paramount to high paying jobs, whether through licensed two year programs or four year degrees in STEM fields. This will continue to be true as the workforce demands shift in response to emerging technologies.

This new reality supports the idea that perhaps what is most important for 21st Century high school graduates is to be career ready. Some careers will require college—either two year or four year and beyond programs.  Some careers will require certifications or apprenticeships available in high school. All careers will require a commitment to continual learning, which may be provided by employers or institutions of higher education.

Finally, being career ready will require skills not easily measured by a single test—the 21st Century skills of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Perhaps this is a definition that will build consensus?

How do you define success for modern high school students? What do college and career ready mean for you and your children? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.