Step Five

Align employers and educators


To build talent, employers should work closely with their local colleges to make sure that programs and curriculum match workforce needs. Colleges must understand the labor market and the skills and knowledge the market requires, and employers must understand the operations of colleges and the backgrounds, capacities, and needs of the students they serve. K-12 systems should communicate with colleges, and colleges must work with each other to improve student success, facilitating transfer and collaborating on programs.

This work often requires major systems change, but several clear steps can be taken, including easing the rules for transfer students, increasing opportunities for learning on the job, and aligning postsecondary and K-12 institutions.

Make transfer easy

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, more than 37 percent of college students change schools at least once in six years. (And 45 percent of those change schools twice.) Too many—an average of 37 percent—lose credits in the process. You want to prevent these problems, to make transfer between institutions seamless. Many colleges have articulation agreements—compacts usually between community colleges and four-year institutions that ensure that content, requirements, and desired outcomes are compatible with each other. They ensure that a credit earned at one institution will be accepted at the other, not just toward graduation but toward their chosen major. Advising is part of the package. Students meet with an advisor and select a transfer destination early in the process. Here is what some communities are doing to help students transfer as smoothly as possible:

  • In Mobile, Alabama, three very different and once-competitive institutions—a state four-year college, a historically Black two-year college and a state two-year college with multiple campuses—have cooperated to smooth the transfer process with aligned pathways and a professional advisor who helps match student interests and goals with schedules and degree requirements
  • In New York, the Bronx Transfer Affinity Group and the Queens Transfer Affinity Group (BTAG and QTAG, respectively) are agreements among institutions that ensure that students enrolled in any of the network schools can move on with a high degree of transferability. The aim of the compact is “to develop an institutional culture that embraces and nurtures transfer students by creating meaningful programs and processes that boost transfer success.” The goal, too, is to create a model that can be replicated across the CUNY system.
  • Detroit is developing eight new pathway models for transfer students. Wayne State University is scaling a program that allows eligible adult students to take both two-year classes at Macomb Community College and four-year classes at Wayne State. An interface will synchronize Macomb’s student information system with that of Wayne State’s, paving the way to align information systems from other schools as well. The colleges are also working to coordinate academic coaching.
  • In Southwest Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University partners with Florida Southwestern State College to give students a clearly defined pathway to a bachelor’s degree. Through the arrangement, the colleges coordinate tracking and academic advising between their offices of admissions, academic advising, and registration. Comprehensive career advising aims to reduce the number of credits (thus costs) students need for a degree. With career counseling, students declare majors early, with attention to aptitude, interests, internships, and experiential learning.

Align training with employer demand

  • In Las Vegas, leaders in workforce and business development have released “Blueprint 2.0,” a roadmap of Nevada’s top seven in-demand industries. (Those industries are emerging technology; logistics; manufacturing and supply-chain management; autonomous systems; finance, banking, and insurance; health care services and medical education; gaming; and tourism and conventions.) The map serves as a guide to the skills and certifications needed for successful area careers. Community leaders will use it and other data sources to implement strategies to increase the regional talent pipeline. Meanwhile, Las Vegas is shooting for a 15 percent increase in the number of programs in the area with registered apprenticeships.
  • In Southwest Florida, Future Makers Coalition is working to revitalize workforce development in rural Hendry County’s adult school through a partnership of education, philanthropy, government, and employers. As a result of their alignment efforts, the coalition has added trainings for industrial mechanics, certified nursing assistants, construction technologists, security guards, and forklift operators to its existing programs for welding, high school equivalency, and English as a second language. Marketing to adult learners with no postsecondary experience, the Clewiston Adult School has more than doubled enrollment in its welding, mechanics, and certified nursing assistant programs. The school partners with the local workforce board to help these students persist, and foundation funds help them with emergency expenses. This year, 95 percent of enrolled students are projected to earn industry certifications or course credentials for employment.
  • In New York, CUNY is expanding partnerships with employers, including developing healthcare pathways with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU.) Against growing demand, the aim is to develop a pipeline of 20,000 students who are informed and actively recruited. The partners are mapping out the needed competencies in healthcare fields in ways that align with prior learning. CUNY also works with employers on policies for tuition benefits. And it is collaborating with the mayor’s office and local workforce investment boards to develop stronger pathways for employment in the public sector.
  • Employers in Corpus Christi are working with Del Mar College, the local community college, to produce industry-specific training programs that lead students to new or better jobs. Del Mar is also scaling existing programs aligned with employer needs. Building on the success of its pipeline fabrication program, which has boasted 100 percent employment, Del Mar is launching several accelerated training programs, including in construction technology.

Increase opportunities for learning on the job

Employers work with colleges to provide credit-bearing, hands-on instruction in the workplace that aligns with classroom curriculum and leads to industry-recognized credentials. Many employers provide internships that allow students to earn income while learning on the job. Outokumpu, a global manufacturer of stainless steel, has developed a certificate program in Mobile, Alabama with two-year Bishop State College. Each student is assigned a mentor, and all spend about 70 percent of their first year in a traditional classroom (which may be at the mill) and the entire second year at the plant, learning the business firsthand. All earn credits toward an associate degree.

Align K-12 with higher learning

Just as workforce development starts with educational success, educational success starts with readiness in the early grades. So your K-12 partners will want to work more closely with learning institutions to make sure that curriculum produces students with the knowledge and skills that higher education demands. This sort of alignment requires that K-12 institutions “reach up” and post-high school institutions “reach down.” The former might involve early college programs and visits to campuses; the latter might involve college advisors coming into high schools.

Here are a few ways that communities are working to create seamless pipelines:

  • College Next in Fresno is a collaboration between the Central Valley Higher Education Commission, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, and the California College Guidance Initiative that’s working with K-12 institutions on a data-sharing platform available to students and parents. The platform will allow seamless transcript transfers between K-12 and the community colleges and the state universities. Over a third of Central Valley school districts have agreed to participate.
  • To further prepare K-12 students for college success, many California schools are using the state university system’s expository reading and writing course (ERWC), a college preparatory, rhetoric-based English course for grade 12 that develops proficiency in rhetorical and analytical reading, writing, and thinking. The curriculum includes topics relevant to students and novels that help them read and write at a college level. Academic studies show that students who took ERWC in 12th grade enjoyed significantly more success in their freshman year of college, across all courses, than students who did not. The current cohort of ERWC students will be followed through their first year of college to evaluate whether those findings hold up.
  • In Dayton, three partner colleges offer summer bridge programs to help local high school graduates transition to Sinclair College, Wright State University, and the University of Dayton. In an immersive, on-campus experience, students connect with faculty and peers to gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college. They complete steps for enrollment, meet with an advisor, and learn about various support services. The bridge program is targeted at first-generation and underserved students.
  • Denver’s “Career Connect” exposes Denver high school students to thousands of careers as they learn more about their own interests. They pick from nine fields to explore, including engineering, hospitality, business, and education. Moving along a continuum, the learning begins in the classroom, in the early grades. For instance, students can learn some basics about STEM fields as early as kindergarten, then take foundational industry courses in middle school, then specialized industry courses from grades 10 to 12 that may include college-level work and the creation of a portfolio toward an industry credential. The high school program also connects students with a mentor and an industry internship.

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