Chapter 4

College & Career Readiness


A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce reports that of the 7.2 million jobs lost during the Great Recession, 78 percent were for workers with a high school education or less. Most new jobs gained during the recent recovery have gone to employees with some form of postsecondary education or training. This loss has left many of the least educated workers either unemployed or underemployed. Two of every three new jobs now require some level of postsecondary education—training credentials, an associate degree, a four-year degree, or higher.xiv

Many of today’s jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete, as a product of new innovations in automation and other technological advancements. For example, in 2016, Walmart eliminated 1,500 positions in its financial and accounting back office due to efficiencies made possible by automation. Across the spectrum of employment, machines are quickly becoming the laborers of the future. Students need to be prepared for our rapidly-changing workforce needs.

It is difficult to pinpoint the precise combination of factors that ensure a young person will advance to a successful career. For too long, the goal of attaining a college degree was held so high that young people interested in other career opportunities often got lost in the emphasis. We acknowledge the importance of college, but it should not be the only option promoted for economic opportunity. A rapidly changing job market has opened other pathways to equip our students with the skills and education they will need to build and support thriving families. With more and more well-paying middle-skill jobs—jobs requiring more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree—we must change the mindset around technical education and community colleges. We should encourage more of our students from all income levels to pursue these practical and beneficial educational options.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 37 percent of all new jobs created between 2013 and 2017 were middle-skill jobs. Many of these jobs provide higher wages than those that require a four-year degree. These alternative certificates and degrees also come without the crippling debt that often goes hand-in-hand with a four-year (or more) education.

Even with the technical jobs available today, our community and region experienced a significant loss of manufacturing jobs in past decades and we have not forgotten that history. Parents of children who are now ready to explore postsecondary opportunities are reticent to encourage their children to pursue a technical career; only 35 percent have stated they would encourage this type of career.xv Yet, the technical jobs that are available today look very different from and require more complex skills than those lost in the manufacturing sector previously.

Special note regarding graduation rates versus proficiency and college/career preparedness We have much to celebrate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg regarding our high school graduation rates. In 2010, our graduation rate hovered around 70 percent. Today, through a variety of successful tactics, the rate is approaching 90 percent. In fact, CMS now exceeds the state average by several percentage points.
Although more students are leaving high school with a diploma, we are concerned about those students graduating without the necessary skills to succeed in postsecondary opportunities. For example, Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) indicates that in the recent past, approximately 70 percent of CMS graduates entering CPCC require remediation in math and/or reading before they can take college-level courses. That percentage is beginning to drop due to recent measures being taken by CMS and CPCC. For our recommendations in this section to have meaningful impact, we urge CMS to continue its efforts to increase graduation rates. However, we hope the school system will apply the same tenacity to identifying and implementing strategies aimed at ensuring students graduate with the needed skills competencies and subject matter proficiencies.

Students need to be prepared for our rapidly-changing workforce needs.

Share Tweet

Career Connected Learning & Readiness: "Next Generation Pathways"

Our community must place a higher priority on exposing children to viable career options and the different pathways to get there. This career exploration and contemplation should begin much earlier (around the third grade) and occur more often. To this end, we should endeavor to replicate, expand and improve career academies and other pathway models that provide a clear sequence of academic and technical courses, work-based learning experiences, intentional career advising, and opportunities to develop skills and earn credentials that will meet the current and future needs of the region’s employers.

Additionally, we must give more high school students access to accelerated learning and dual enrollment opportunities (simultaneous enrollment in high school and college), which enables them to take college-level courses before graduation. Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) are particularly effective examples of courses that present students with an opportunity to engage in rigorous academic study with the potential to earn college credit. To ensure each student advances toward a productive career path, Charlotte-Mecklenburg would benefit immensely from increasing the number of low-socioeconomic students enrolled in and completing higher-level college prep courses.

Although it is important to highlight all educational opportunities, not only four-year college or university degrees, it is also important that technical skill sets honed in high school, when available, should be accompanied by simultaneous enrollment in industry certification programs prior to graduation. These certifications can certainly be earned after high school graduation, but to the extent we can design them into the high school experience, students will find faster pathways to careers.

Task Force Strategy F

Broaden the range of and access to high quality college and career pathways offered by our K-12 and postsecondary institutions, ensuring all students have access to and support for the full range of opportunities.

Key Recommendations

  1. Replicate, expand and improve career academies and other pathway models that provide a clear sequence of academic and technical courses, work-based learning experiences, intentional career advising, and opportunities to develop skills and earn credentials that will meet the current and future needs of the region’s employers.
  2. Enable more students to access accelerated learning and dual enrollment opportunities, and make more credits “stackable” from high school into college, so high school courses count toward specific postsecondary credentials.
  3. Increase the number of low-socioeconomic students enrolled in and completing higher- level college prep courses.
  4. Explore funding options to ensure that every Career and Technical Education (CTE) student has the financial ability to attain a certification.

Implementation Tactics and Policy Considerations

  • Consider creating a leadership position at CMS focused on expanding the role of workforce development and work-based learning, and on building collaborative partnerships with government, local industry sectors, nonprofits and higher education to expand “next generation” learning opportunities for CMS youth.
  • Ensure all high schools offer a minimum number of AP/IB courses and provide the necessary supports for students to succeed in them.
  • Support a new policy to ensure every CMS career academy has an actively engaged Board of Directors comprised of industry stakeholders who are leading, advocating for apprenticeships and paid internships, supporting the career academy, and holding the institution accountable.
  • Continue to improve and increase industry-targeted CTE options for more CMS students in collaboration with industry and higher education programs.
  • Launch a recruitment campaign to encourage more eligible, low-socioeconomic students to take advantage of the state’s Career and College Promise Program that enables high school students to earn free college credit at CPCC during their junior and senior years.
  • Create/implement a communication strategy to reduce the stigma and cultural bias associated with vocational education and non-degree certificate programs that lead to middle-skill job opportunities.
  • Fully integrate entrepreneurship within the larger strategy of preparing students for productive, high-skill careers.
  • Strengthen and expand articulation agreements and partnerships between CMS, CPCC and UNC Charlotte.

Advancing on A Career Pathway: The Importance of Career & College Guidance

Students need help understanding and navigating emerging and divergent college and career pathways and opportunities. Specifically, they need to: a) become aware of the broad range of jobs and careers that meet the evolving needs of the workplace, b) learn how to connect their interests and skills to an educational pathway that leads to rewarding opportunities in their career choice, and c) navigate postsecondary options, enrollment, and financial aid application processes.

"Why would you pack your bags and then decide where you're going? That's what our kids are doing in the educational system. Most kids are making decisions about what they want to do with virtually no information, and there is no context for their education."
Clifton Vann, Livingston & Haven

We know when students start thinking about college or career pathways in their junior or senior years of high school, they are waiting too long. It needs to happen much earlier, beginning as a planned sequence of activities and experiences starting in elementary school. Some students are fortunate to have parents who can help their children navigate this process. They enroll their children in career-focused camps or classes, tap their networks of friends and colleagues to expose their children to career options, and build on their own college and career preparation experiences to help guide their children along a path. Other students, particularly those with parents who have not gone to college and do not know how to help, need much greater support in developing their career aspirations and navigating pathways. For these students, the role of our school guidance counselors and career development specialists is critically important. Without sufficient counseling, students can stumble into poor decisions about their future.

Although we have many great guidance counselors in our school, they are often not equipped or have the capacity to provide the level of career guidance their students need. They may lack the most up-to-date knowledge about career options and the educational pathways associated with them. They also may not have access to tools that provide information about the current and future labor markets, career pathways and job requirements. Additionally, in some instances, counselors—as well as teachers and administrators—may unintentionally bring cultural biases to their interactions with students causing them to have lower expectations for some, thus limiting the options they promote. CMS has recently begun using the Dismantling Racism training with its staff to address such implicit bias and plans to continue with this work, which we encourage.

Of all the significant challenges for career and college advisement, the biggest one is the ratio of guidance counselors to students. The American Counseling Association recommends an average ratio of one counselor to 250 students for high school and below. The ratio of counselors to students in CMS is far higher. In its 2015/2016 school year, the ratios of counselors in CMS were as follows:xvi

  • Elementary school: 525 students to one counselor
  • Middle school: 380 students to one counselor
  • High school: 395 students to one counselor

CMS recognizes the gap and continues to seek funding additional counselors. Thirty-four new counselor positions were included in CMS’s 2016/2017 budget.

At CPCC, the student/counselor ratio is 514:1. Despite the challenges this creates, counselors and advisors work hard to provide effective advising and counseling services. The majority of students are first generation and often have a challenge transitioning to college especially as it relates to course and program selection. Many students need additional assistance in exploring viable options. It is difficult to track and monitor the decisions and progress of a large number of students as they adjust to college and balance a multitude of demands and responsibilities with limited staffing. Students often enroll in basic skills or general education courses without understanding the level of rigor associated with the course or the applicability of the course to any specific program or transfer objective. Helping students make informed choices about their education is a critical strategy to increase student success in high school and beyond.

Task Force Strategy G

Equip all students and their parents with the information and guidance they need to understand and navigate multiple college and career pathways, preparation and processes.

Key Recommendations

  1. Ensure all students, beginning in middle school or earlier, are exposed to and understand how to navigate career pathways and the postsecondary enrollment process.
  2. Increase the number of dedicated college and career guidance counselors/advisors available for students in every CMS school, meeting the industry recommended average student/counselor ratios of 1:250.
  3. Expand the knowledge, capacity, and cultural competence of guidance counselors, advisors, career development coordinators, teachers, and near-peer mentors on the various college and career pathways and trends, and ensure they have the tools to help students and their parents understand and connect with college and career pathway opportunities.
  4. Leverage nonprofit and other community resources to augment college and career advising in our schools.

Implementation Tactics and Policy Considerations:

  • Include and support funding of additional guidance counselors in future CMS budgets to achieve the recommended counselor/student ratio.
  • Provide a continuum of career awareness and planning support for all students beginning with career awareness in elementary school, career exploration in middle school and intentional skill development in high school and beyond.
  • Bolster ongoing professional development opportunities to improve knowledge and skills relating to targeted career pathways and associated educational and industry requirements.
  • Have more CMS counselors, advisors, teachers and administrators participate in implicit bias training to challenge occupational stereotypes and interactions with students about college and career aspirations and preparation.
  • Evaluate the need for a coordinating entity to provide professional development on career pathways and labor market trends to local education institutions and workforce agencies to ensure common information, data, and best practices are shared.
  • Explore opportunities for a consulting firm to partner with CMS to develop a roadmap for the future of CTE programs and community engagement.
  • Aggressively grow work-based mentor programs to ensure every student has a tangible career path.
  • Increase opportunities for teachers and counselors to participate in summer industry internships to learn how to contextualize learning with students.
  • Leverage social media and technology tools to increase awareness and knowledge about navigating career pathways.
  • Expand access to quality out-of-school time programming that integrates academic support with career awareness, exploration, and preparation and connects more low socio-economic students to opportunities.
  • Increase support provided through programs such as the College Advising Corps.
"Without application, principles and ideas have no bearing and no test."
John Dewey

Apprenticeships, Paid Internships & Other Work-Based Learning: Learn & Earn

One of the most important ways high school and college students can fast track their career readiness and cultivate increased social capital is through apprenticeships, quality paid internships, and other work-based learning opportunities. Training programs offered through Red Ventures, Siemens, Bosch, CPCC’s Apprenticeship Charlotte, and others benefit both students and employers by combining classroom and work-based experiences. Programs such as these match students to paid training, which leads to credentials and employment opportunities. The Task Force strongly believes the scalability of these types of programs is a game-changing strategy for economic opportunity. Accordingly, we call upon our business and educational sectors to design and implement a plan for dramatic expansion of work-based learning programs. Note, this calling is for employers of all sizes—large, medium, and small.

Beyond this programmatic work, we need greater collaboration between employers and our educational institutions to integrate relevant theory and practice into skill development in the classroom. These approaches would give students a developmental edge and add practical value as they continue on a path towards their career of choice.

Transportation can be a challenge for some students. Without transportation, students may not be able to take advantage of apprenticeships and paid internships. Employers and schools should consider this barrier when connecting students to work-based learning opportunities and help students overcome this challenge.

Task Force Strategy H

Galvanize community support to develop and implement a multi-faceted plan to increase paid work-based learning opportunities for students.

Key Recommendations

  1. Increase community awareness about and support for apprenticeships, paid internships and other work-based learning programs.
  2. Build the necessary infrastructure and employer commitment to implement and scale work-based learning to create at least 10,000 opportunities annually for CMS high school students; 1,000 by 2018, 4,000 by 2020 and 10,000 when fully scaled.
  3. Increase the involvement of employers in developing and helping to teach courses that incorporate sector-specific knowledge and skill development.
  4. Require every student who completes a formal career academy experience to receive a paid internship as a capstone to his or her high school career. Also, require every CMS high school student, whether a career academy student, to receive a meaningful work-based learning experience before he or she graduates.
  5. Provide paid internships for high-performing, low-income college students enrolled in local colleges and universities. Work-based learning opportunities for college students enrolled in certificate-level programs at CPCC are also needed.
  6. Ensure students take advantage of the work-based learning opportunities by addressing structural barriers, such as transportation, work hours, etc.

Implementation Tactics and Policy Considerations

  • Organize a learning network of employers with experience and success in providing apprenticeships, paid internships and other education partnership activities to share their knowledge, lessons learned and value proposition with other employers, and to provide peer coaching.
  • Evaluate the need for an intermediary or coordinator to promote, build and sustain collaborative partnerships with K-12, higher education institutions, local industry sectors and nonprofits.
  • Create more pre-apprenticeship opportunities at CMS and CPCC to help students and workers understand how to qualify and prepare for apprenticeships.
  • Publicly recognize and celebrate employers that support work-based learning and other collaborative work with education.
  • Develop strategies to address transportation barriers for students to access apprenticeship and internship opportunities.
“Nationally, 47 percent of children born in the bottom income quintile who don’t get a four-year college degree stay in the lowest quintile as an adult, while only 10 percent of children born in the lowest income quintile who graduate from college with a four-year degree remain in that quintile.”
Pew Charitable Trusts

Support for First-Generation College Students: Helping Them Stay the Course

Despite the increasing importance of postsecondary education, a wide gap exists in college graduation rates between students from low-income backgrounds and those from higher income families. A report by the Pell Institute indicates that only 21 percent of college students in families from the bottom income quintile obtained a bachelor’s degree by the age of 24 in 2013 compared to 99 percent of college students from families in the top quintile.xvii

This gap in college persistence and completion exists for several reasons. Some students who have been accepted into two- or four-year colleges do not show up when school starts in the fall. This is known as “summer melt.”

Anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of students presumed to be headed to college fail to matriculate to a postsecondary institution in the fall following high school

Share Tweet

Summer melt rates are highest among students from low-and moderate-income families and students with lower academic achievement. They lack guiding support during the summer months and feel overwhelmed with the tasks required of them in preparation for college in the fall (e.g. completing financial aid applications, filling out forms, attending college orientation, etc.). Other reasons often cited by lower-income students for not staying in or completing college include:

  • Not being academically prepared for college coursework; they have not taken the more rigorous courses in high school to help them succeed in college.
  • Making decisions about their postsecondary choice based on limited information.
  • Dealing with rapidly rising tuition costs, which make college inaccessible or perceived to be inaccessible.
  • Not being aware of financial support available to them and/or the financial support they do have—scholarships, loans, etc.—is not enough to cover college costs as well as living expenses (e.g. housing, transportation, childcare.)
  • Working full-time jobs while attending college, which distracts them from school work.
  • Juggling family responsibilities while going to college (e.g. caring for children or others).
  • No role models exist in their family or immediate networks with college experience.
  • Not feeling as if they belong in the college culture.

Task Force Strategy I

Expand and strengthen support for first-generation and other low-socioeconomic students who need help in transitioning to and completing postsecondary education.

Key Recommendations

  1. Reduce the potential for “summer melt,” by providing support to students prior to the first semester of college.
  2. Continue to reduce the number of CMS graduates needing remediation at CPCC before they can take college-level coursework.
  3. Connect more minority and low-socioeconomic college students to mentoring, academic tutoring, financial assistance, and other support to help them stay in and complete their education.

Implementation Tactics and Policy Considerations

  • Expand information about and access to summer bridge programs at CPCC and other educational institutions to help students follow through with their plans.
  • Explore efforts like the Austin Chamber’s Summer Melt Aversion Program, where high school or college counselors and/or volunteers stay connected with students over the summer months.
  • Continue to align requirements for entry-level college courses with those for CMS diplomas.
  • Administer the college-ready anchor assessment in 10th grade to address students’ academic deficiencies before college.
  • Create a learning network of administrators from CPCC, UNC Charlotte, Davidson College, Queens University, Johnson C. Smith University and Johnson and Wales to share and support evidence-based best practices that improve persistence and completion rates of low-socioeconomic students.
  • Embed mentoring in more scholarship programs that serve low socioeconomic students to help improve recipient outcomes.
  • Provide financial assistance to meet basic needs for scholarship and low-income students, such as food, books and transportation.
  • Leverage external partnerships to provide services and support for students.

Disconnected Youth (Ages 16-24): Helping Them Re-Connect

While the vast majority of young people successfully transition to adulthood, a number of young people ages 16 to 24 are disconnected, meaning they are neither working nor going to school or training. This puts them at an exceptionally high risk of economic and social hardship. In 2013, Measure of America estimated that 45,500 teens and young adults in the Charlotte metro area were considered disconnected. This represents approximately 14.5 percent of all young people ages 16 to 24 in the metro area.xix

As we think about our next generation of leaders and innovators, we cannot lose sight of these young people and their potential. They too have talents, dreams and goals for their lives. We need to do more in our community to re-engage and connect these teens and young adults to educational, training, and employment opportunities that will put them on a more positive pathway.

Task Force Strategy J

Create more on-ramps to education, training, and employment for our disconnected youth.

Key Recommendations

  1. Make the training and hiring of disconnected youth a much higher community priority.
  2. Expand collaboration and partnerships county-wide to reengage our disconnected youth and to develop new and innovative approaches to working with them.
  3. Connect more youth to earn and learn training programs that allow them to make a living while earning a credential or degree.
  4. Gain commitment from area employers to give disconnected youth a chance by providing them with training and/or work experiences.

Implementation Tactics and Policy Considerations

  • Develop creative outreach strategies to connect with and engage disconnected teens and young adults in job and career pathways and opportunities.
  • Call on our business community to reach out to disconnected youth with entry level jobs that lead to meaningful careers. Businesses of all sizes and types, including entrepreneurs, have a role to play, and should be challenged to partner with workforce development agencies, CPCC, and other organizations supporting disconnected youth.
  • Provide additional support to expand workforce development programs that offer remediation and GED support, soft skills training, and postsecondary education and training opportunities, including apprenticeships, for teens and young adults.
  • Promote entrepreneurship as an alternative career path, and provide guidance and financial support to help young entrepreneurs get started.
  • Connect youth and teens to caring adults who can help them navigate their challenges.
  • Explore place-based initiatives that concentrate outreach and support in neighborhoods where larger numbers of disconnected youth live.
  • Encourage more employers to use hiring policies and practices that do not automatically eliminate hiring young people with criminal records.
  • Work with the local legal community to offer more opportunities for youth and young adults with a criminal record to seek expungement, which will make them more attractive candidates for jobs.

Expectation for a Post-Secondary Attainment: Building a Mecklenburg Talent Pipeline

While we want to increase awareness of multiple educational pathways to career opportunities, it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that higher levels of educational attainment correlate with higher levels of economic opportunity.

In today’s highly competitive job market, a high school diploma without a training “certificate” is no longer sufficient for success. Throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg, we must elevate and actively promote the critical importance of the completion of a postsecondary degree and/or industry certification for our youth to successfully compete in our changing, technologically advanced labor market. We must cultivate the immense talent, intelligence, and creativity of all children so they can grow to their full potential.

While Charlotte-Mecklenburg is fortunate to have committed advocates for postsecondary attainment, we lack a common agenda to promote a career-ready culture, particularly in low-opportunity neighborhoods. Best practices in this area can be found in other cities that have made this a community-wide priority. In Louisville, KY, business, education, and nonprofit leaders came together in 2010 to launch the “55,000 Degrees” campaign with the goal of increasing the number of people in the region who obtain college degrees and other post-secondary credentials. In Austin, TX, the chamber of commerce is currently leading their “Direct to College” campaign with the goal of enrolling at least 70 percent of the city’s public high school graduates directly into higher education. And, through a public/private partnership in Boston, MA, the city’s leaders have created “Boston Success,” a campaign to double the number of public school students obtaining a college degree or other postsecondary credential.

To address how families might be able to afford postsecondary educations for their children, many states are engaging in a growing movement to create children’s savings accounts (CSAs) for all kindergartners. The Campaign for Every Kid’s Future is leading this work nationally, building on the belief that every child, including the most vulnerable, should have dedicated savings that build aspirations and financial means for a future that includes post-secondary education. Research shows that low-income students with a college savings account from an early age are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate.xx Even though the savings amount may be relatively small, it helps foster a college-going mindset with the child and parents.

“Say Yes to Education Guilford” in Guilford County, NC, is another community initiative where scholarship support is made available to all low-income public and charter school students. Community leaders in Guilford County launched a chapter of Say Yes in 2015; a $70 million endowment is being established to support the work. We need to explore these and other scholarship opportunities to make postsecondary education more accessible to more students.

We also need to explore and learn from the examples of collective collaboration in other communities. If we fail to implement coordinated initiatives to narrow the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income children, it will translate to diminished hope, unfulfilled aspirations, and lost talent.

By expanding our supports and approaching education in Charlotte-Mecklenburg with the expectation that all children will receive a quality education and be prepared for a productive career, we will ensure the academic success of our own children and plant the seed of future economic success for Mecklenburg County.

Task Force Strategy K

Elevate and actively promote the critical importance of acquiring a postsecondary degree and/or industry certification to successfully compete in our changing, technologically advanced labor market.

Key Recommendations

  1. Develop and launch a public campaign and strategy aimed at promoting the importance of postsecondary attainment for all students.
  2. Seek creative solutions to provide more young people with financial support/scholarships to enable them to participate in postsecondary education and training.

Implementation Tactics and Policy Considerations

  • Convene a local group of partners to investigate postsecondary campaigns in other communities to identify potential leadership infrastructure, costs, audience messages, what’s working/not working and which models may be best to consider for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
  • Lead, support, and implement a community-wide campaign.
  • Investigate “Say Yes to Education Guilford” and other universal higher education savings programs to determine feasibility in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and test for interest and willingness to pursue locally.