Leading Students in Search of Alternatives to College

Traditionally, school career and college planning programs emphasized college readiness, focusing primarily on academics and admission requirements. However, it’s clear that college is not the best fit for all students—or the current job market—as more than half of occupations in the US now require specialized training but not a bachelor’s degree.

“Career training has been ignored for far too long,” says Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of New York City Public Schools, “but is essential if we’re going to address the ‘career-ready’ piece of the puzzle that, along with the ‘college-ready’ piece, is now all the buzz.” An effective career and college program will not only prepare students for college but will also provide tools to explore alternatives to college, including CTE, work-based-learning (WBL) programs, and military service.

A Changing Labor Market Demands Skilled Labor

Globalization has moved unskilled manufacturing positions overseas and automation has eliminated many low-skilled jobs with companies that have stayed in the US. As a result, there are few career opportunities for high school graduates who do not pursue post-secondary training. New industries such as the renewable energy field need employees with specific skill sets beyond the basic math, language, organization, and problem-solving skills that they learn in high school. The country’s changing demographics and aging population have expanded job growth in fields such as healthcare. Students may find alternatives to college that will lead to credentials in these growing industries.

Challenges to Expanding Career Programs Beyond College Readiness

All students, college and non-college bound, will benefit from exploring college alternatives. Some may not consider a non-college route at first because Western culture historically reveres a college education. It is seen as an indicator of social status, and pursuing other career pathways is still viewed by many as a “lesser” route, designed for students unable to handle the rigors of academia.

This misguided perception has been changing, and the COVID-19 pandemic further demonstrated the essential role of workers in the trades. For example, truck drivers delivered essential goods, and HVAC technicians were needed to upgrade ventilation systems. During the national health emergency, healthcare workers on all levels were hailed as heroes. Spiking energy costs are driving demand for alternative energy sources, and these technologies need skilled workers. The computer chip shortage, which has placed a stranglehold on the auto industry, has the federal government partnering with tech companies to expand domestic semiconductor production. These industries will be creating good jobs for workers with the necessary advanced skills. Many students will be eager to pursue these opportunities, but they need to know how to earn the required credentials.

Students need guidance to navigate the multiple post-secondary pathways available to them. Coordinating CTE programs and WBL experiences with coursework requires organizational skills and knowledge of local industries. Each student has a unique set of interests and aptitudes, and finding the best route to career success requires individualized programs. Ideally, school counselors have the time to meet regularly with each student to develop and monitor a program of classes and training that works best for them. But with the average school counselor carrying a caseload of several hundred students, this isn’t practical and challenges a school’s ability to expand its career and college planning program. Technology offers a solution.

Leveraging Technology to Lead Students’ Search for Alternatives to College

Modernizing your district’s career and college planning program with an online platform such as Choices360 will turn much of the work of individualizing programs over to students. Middle and high school students can log into their accounts and complete developmentally appropriate activities, such as interest inventories and assessments, career exploration, and post-secondary planning.

This self-directed learning is motivating and exposes students to multiple career options. When they discover a career field that aligns with their interests and skills, they can explore further to learn the granular details of a specific occupation and identify appropriate CTE and WBL opportunities. For students who have determined that college is their best pathway, this type of platform also provides tools to investigate degree programs, campuses, admission requirements, and financial aid.

Students can organize their learning within their accounts to develop a clear picture of their pathway forward, and they will be better equipped to plan their high school class schedules. Families may also be granted access to student accounts so they can follow their student’s progress and provide support.

Upgrading to a modern system will also streamline counseling department tasks. From a central dashboard, counselors can track student progress and communicate with the student about their options. They can collect and produce reports for individual students, specified groups, and the district in order to measure the program’s effectiveness. School administrators may also modify the program’s curriculum to reflect the unique conditions of the district and local industries.

Keeping pace with a changing economy and job market is stretching the resources of counseling departments across the country. A new approach that utilizes the power of the internet and leading-edge technology can create an all-inclusive program to serve the needs of students, whether they choose college or an alternative pathway. At the same time, a new system can simplify counseling department functions to free up time for more direct student services. Innovations in career and college planning systems can expand your district’s programs to meet these new challenges.

Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.

To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!

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