The COVID-19 pandemic has created urgency around re-engaging high school students who have fallen behind on graduation requirements and college and career readiness. Investing in career-connected learning programs (e.g., work-based learning and career and technical education) represents a crucial re-engagement opportunity.
There are untold numbers of high school students who, as a result of poor engagement during COVID, failed or nearly failed courses this year. Students needing to recover credit, and who may be working in unskilled positions to contribute to their family’s well-being need good reasons to re-engage and do the hard work of recovering lost credits and getting back on track to graduation. Unaddressed, this situation will exacerbate Colorado’s existing leaky talent pipeline problem, leaving more young people out of the strong middle and high skill economy Colorado offers.
Research and anecdotal evidence show that students who understand why the things they learn are relevant to them and their future are more likely to show up to class, participate, and succeed. Gallup tells us this engagement and hope is a better predictor of postsecondary success than GPA or SAT scores. Career-connected learning opportunities engage students and provide them with relevance, rigor, and hope.
Work-Based Learning (WBL) provides students with opportunities to learn foundational skills used in the workforce through participation in applied programs such as internships or apprenticeships.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is career-oriented coursework, or the ability to earn credit through industry partnerships, that provide students with the opportunity to obtain skills-based certifications or credentials.
Scientific evidence shows that WBL and CTE are associated with gains in 1) high school standardized testing scores and GPAs, 2) high school graduation rates, and 3) several metrics of college and career readiness.
Boost test scores & GPA amongst high school students
- CTE and WBL participation is associated with higher standardized testing scores1 and a greater likelihood of passing milestone exams2
- Completion of applied STEM coursework is associated with greater math achievement scores3 among students with learning disabilities
- Students who complete CTE-focused programs have higher overall GPAs4 relative to students who do not
Increase high school graduation rates and reduce dropout
- Colorado students who participate in CTE have a higher high school graduation rate compared to all students in Colorado5
- CTE participation is associated with a higher probability of graduating from high school on time and remaining enrolled in high school through grade 112, an effect that is particularly strong for students from low-income families
- Students who earn two or more credits within a single CTE program of study more likely to graduate high school in 4 years6
Promote postsecondary education and career readiness
- The overwhelming majority (98%) of Colorado students who participate in CTE enroll in postsecondary education, enlist in the military, or enter the workforce within one year after high school graduation5
- Students who earn two or more credits within a single CTE program of study are more likely to be employed full-time eight years post-graduation6 compared to those who do not
- Students with learning disabilities who complete applied STEM coursework have a greater likelihood of college enrollment3 relative to students with learning disabilities who do not complete applied STEM coursework
Additional global benefits of WBL and CTE include:
- Preparation for the transition from high school to postsecondary education/workforce
- Opportunity to build professional relationships and networks and develop transferrable, foundational skills needed for the workforce
- Increased school engagement and reduction in absenteeism and dropout
- Provides students from underserved backgrounds with opportunities for workforce development they might not otherwise receive
See additional resources (1, 2) for how states can support CTE and WBL in high schools. Additionally, please see this Talent Pipeline Report by the Colorado Workforce Development Council (2020) on the importance of credentials and certifications to be successful in Colorado’s modern workforce.