Establish a clear vision for workforce education for all students that expands access to high-quality career pathway programs (e.g., CTE, early college, work-based learning) and provides exposure and access to diverse career opportunities aligned to industry needs.
Context and Arkansas Progress
All students need additional exposure, experience, and guidance to identify career options they can pursue and what it takes to get there. Career pathways programs like CTE and early college opportunities engage students while in high school and provide an additional network of support and “real-world” exposure to potential careers. This engagement often leads to increased high school graduation, and in the case of early college, increased likelihood to enroll and graduate from a postsecondary institution. Students who participate in career pathways programs are better prepared for their next step after high school, whether entering the workforce or enrolling in postsecondary programs.
One significant step the state has taken is that every Arkansas student, beginning in 2017, must now develop a “Student Success Plan” by the end of eighth grade. The plan is developed in collaboration with parents and school personnel, and is to be reviewed and updated annually. The plans are dynamic and include individualized steps necessary for each student to be ready for college and career.
Progress has also been made across the state in deepening the understanding and perception of CTE programs. The state department of education has invested significant time and resources into rebuilding trust with schools, embedding the Division of CTE within the Arkansas Department of Education, and contributing funding to support districts.
Opportunities for Arkansas
Despite growing momentum, there is a need to address challenges in scaling high-quality career pathway programs aligned with industry needs:
- Conduct a biennial “Return on Investment” analysis to better understand the alignment of K-12 and postsecondary programs (including funding allocations) with professional certifications and high-growth, high-demand, and high-wage employment opportunities.
- Analyze longer-term student outcome data related to job placement and wages.
- Integrate pathways programs into existing course and graduation requirements so that students can access CTE or early college without detracting from other pursuits.
- Promote pathway programs, graduation requirements, and certificate opportunities, such as ACT WorkKeys, to industry.
- Expand outcomes-based, weighted funding for CTE to incentivize schools and districts to offer programs of study in high-wage, high-demand occupations.