As the COVID-19 economic downturn has shown, there has never been a better time to have the right skills—or a worse time to have the wrong ones. Some students begin careers right after high school, but most good-paying jobs require college or postsecondary career training. In response, many states have adopted and revised policies to better prepare high school students for college and careers. The reports below analyze these policies across all fifty states and make recommendations for how to strengthen them to ensure all students graduate ready for success.
Ready for What?
During the past several years, states have updated high school graduation requirements to increase students’ readiness for postsecondary education and the workforce. At the same time, they have recognized that increasing the rigor of graduation requirements may require greater flexibility in how students demonstrate that they are prepared for opportunities beyond high school. Our report, Ready for What? How Multiple Graduation Pathways Do—and Do Not—Signal Readiness for College and Careers, provides a fifty-state overview of high school graduation pathways and offers recommendations for policymakers and advocates to design graduation pathways that promote equity and excellence.
Key Finding: Twenty-nine states currently offer multiple pathways to a diploma, providing students with options regarding the high school experiences they will have and, often, the postsecondary experiences for which they will be prepared. However, students in thirteen states choose between a college-preparatory pathway and a career pathway—a choice that may limit the options available to them after high school.
Preparing Students for Careers
State efforts to improve students’ career readiness have lagged those to improve their college readiness. In this collection of fact sheets, we examine three policy areas states have used to advance career readiness:
- High school graduation pathways designed to prepare students for careers through a combination of coursework, assessments, projects, and/or workplace experiences.
- Competency-based education policies that allow students to earn course credit and demonstrate competency in nontraditional ways.
- State accountability systems that include measures of career readiness and encourage student participation and success in career pathways.
Key Finding 1: Efforts to promote career readiness are gaining momentum, with nineteen states offering career-focused graduation pathways. All but two of these states require students to demonstrate competency to complete the pathway—typically by meeting benchmarks on a career-related assessment, such as ACT WorkKeys®, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or an industry-recognized credentialing exam.
Key Finding 2: Not all states have found effective ways to measure whether their pathways successfully prepare students for careers. Even though thirty-five states and the District of Columbia include a college and career readiness indicator in their accountability systems, in most states, a student only needs to meet one measure of college or career readiness to be deemed “ready.” Thus, these indicators do not capture how students are deemed ready—an omission that can mask inequities in access to high-quality opportunities for college and career preparation.