Editor's note: This is the first installment in a two part series. You can find the second part here.
In recent years, the education industry's business model has become increasingly centered around two key products: college and career readiness. But while educators continue to focus on building the skills that help students get to higher education, employers say that those entering the workforce are still not prepared, particularly for jobs that desperately need to be filled.
It's for this reason that President Trump has recently announced his support for apprenticeship programs, as well as the removal of regulations that prevent businesses from participating in them. It's also partly why generally the apprenticeship model – where students go to school and work part-time – is gaining steam in education circles as the alternative to the standard college degree-to-job approach. Though some critics still say that such programs disrupt higher education enrollment and shortchange a liberal arts curriculum that gives students lifelong "soft" skills they need for success, more and more stakeholders in the industry are deciding to embrace it as they see long-run advantages.
The state of the nation calls for a new approach to traditional education-career pathway
The national high school graduation rate has steadily increased, reaching a record high for the 2015-2016 school year of about 82%; and, its on pace to reach 90% by 2020, according to 2015 Building a Grad Nation report from America's Promise Alliance. But such statistics are not reflective of the nation's entire student population.
The report finds that low-income students still lag behind her counterparts, graduating 15 percentage points behind them. Further, while 38 states are able to graduate their middle to high-income students from high school in four years, only two states can do the same for their low-income students. And, four out of the five states with a third of the nation’s black high schoolers, like Mississippi and Louisiana, have graduation rates in the 60s for these students, according to the report.
This snapshot of the nation's profile extends beyond just high school. While the high school graduation rate is rising overall, the statistic is not as pretty for students graduating from higher education institutions. A 2016 report from Third Way, in looking at data from the College Scorecard, saw that almost half of the students at these colleges and universities are not graduating, often due to insufficient income. To add to this analysis, the report showed that in only 26% of all four-year, non-profits, two-thirds of the full time freshman manage to get their degree within six years of being enrolled. The authors write that for the other 761 schools, the rates were so low that they would be "flagged for special attention" under ESSA if they were high schools.
And though many in the education space would argue that a two to four year degree is absolutely necessary for students to be able to get a job, a 2016 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the unemployment rate for college graduates still hovers around 5.6% and underemployment at 12.6%, with a 9.4% unemployment rate for black college graduates. And overall, wages for both high school and college are still fairly progressing poorly, having had little to no growth since 2000.
And with statistics from the Department of Labor showing that around 6 million jobs are open and need to be filled in the U.S., educators and employers are starting to hone in on a growing "skills" gap in the nation's graduates, both at the high school and college levels. In fact, the situation and stagnant employment rates calls into question the American model of education entirely, having experts wonder whether a four year college degree takes a backseat to real world work experience in determining whether a student may have success procuring a job.
Future of apprenticeships dependent on educator-private industry partnerships
In order for the apprenticeship models to work, governors that went abroad saw the importance of private businesses and education leaders actively working together to create the internship spots for students, in addition to working with states to lower regulations on students being able to work.
"I think that education leaders are leaders in their communities. I'm not going to be able to tell someone from Yankton what businesses he should be considering doing apprenticeships with; I should be asking him what businesses he thinks would be a good opportunity for apprenticeships," said Weber. He explains that superintendents ought to know the types of programs that will lead to more success for their students.
"I think the challenge will be to continue to get more businesses on board, not that they don't want to, but I think its different and we're asking something we probably have not before. I think the other challenge will be is that if we double or tripple our numbers next, we are going to need to make sure we can provide those internship placements," said Kindle.
He says he has seen tremendous opportunities for low-income and minority students emerge, that he doesn't want to go away. The only issue is making sure he can continue to build partnerships with local businesses.
"Something I'd say to our state and local leaders is that there should be some funding that could be put toward these internship programs in the way of helping some of these businesses to pay for the internship program and also maybe offer scholarships or opportunities where kids can go on to a tech school or college," he said.
Beyond that, Kentucky Secretary of Labor Derrick K. Ramsey says there needs to be a cultural shift.
"In order for this to work, and it will work, we have to have a cultural shift in the way educators look at this. We still look at someone's success through the diploma. If there is a person out there who will be able to provide for her family comfortably, but hasn't gotten a higher level education, she still isn't going to be seen as successful," said Ramsey.
"As jobs open and as jobs as filled and people are taking care of themselves with a middle class family living, this will change."