College & Workforce Readiness

State Ed. Chiefs Offer $35 Million to States for Career Preparation Initiatives

By Catherine Gewertz — January 19, 2016 2 min read
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CORRECTED A $35 million grant competition kicks off Tuesday, designed to help states build career and technical education programs that prepare students for highly skilled jobs.

The program, called New Skills for Youth, is being coordinated by the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education commissioners, and the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. The money for the grants comes from banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The organizers of the initiative want to encourage states to create career-preparation programs that reflect the needs of employers in their regions, and lead to highly skilled jobs such as nursing technician, aviation mechanic or IT specialist.

Chris Minnich, the executive director of the CCSSO, said that too many pathways in career-prep programs don’t lead to highly skilled, good-paying jobs for students. Initiative organizers want states to change the way they shape such programs, teaming up with leaders of the community, business, and K-12 and higher education to research which career pathways are most needed in their states, Minnich said.

Those pathways would be monitored by the state over time, to see if workplace needs suggest that more students should be encouraged to prepare for, and enter, different fields, Minnich said.

Another key feature of the career pathways that CCSSO and its partners want to shape is that they be rigorous enough to prepare students for both career and college.

“This is an all kids initiative,” Minnich said. “This isn’t about kids who aren’t going to go to college. We need all students—whether they go to college, career-training programs, or community college—to have the skills they need, like writing and critical thinking. We’ve seen that [in many states] there is too much distinction between career- and college-readiness programs. These skills need to be taught to all students.”

The CCSSO has assembled an advisory group of experts to evaluate states’ applications. This spring, CCSSO and JPMorgan Chase will award grants of $100,000 to 20 to 25 states to plan projects. Next fall, they’ll choose 10 to 15 of those states for bigger awards so they can expand and complete the work. Each of those winners will get three-year grants of $1.5 million to $2 million.

The recommendations of the CCSSO’s career-readiness task force, which convened in 2014 to guide development of career-preparation programs and won the support of more than 40 states, will inform the advisory group’s review of states’ applications for the new grants. (The report also includes action steps for each recommendation, and examples of states on the leading edge of new career-readiness programs.)

Here are the three recommendations from its report, “Opportunities and Options: Making Career-Preparation Work for Students:"

Enlist the employer community as a lead partner in defining the pathways and skills most essential in today’s economy. Opportunities and Options: Making Career Preparation Work for Students - See more at: // Enlist the employer community as a lead partner in defining the pathways and skills most essential in today’s economy. Set a higher bar for the quality of career-preparation programs, enabling all students to earn a meaningful postsecondary degree or credential. Make career readiness matter to schools and students by prioritizing it in accountability systems.

The new grant competition builds on the CCSSO’s Career Readiness Initiative from 2014, which got states started working on developing career pathways for high school students that reflect the state’s local and regional needs.

Minnich acknowledges that building the new career-readiness systems could take some time. But he sees abundant promise in the endeavor.

“In three years, we could have 10 systems transformed,” he said. “That would be an exciting result of this investment.”

An earlier version of this post reported that $75 million would be awarded to states in a grant competition. This update clarifies that JPMorgan Chase’s program includes $75 million in initiatives, but only $35 million is part of the state grant program.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.