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How K-12 is Preparing Students for College and Career

By September 30, 2019

From Denver Public Schools to Chicago Public Schools to the Cristo Rey Network, K-12 trailblazers are using Salesforce to manage large-scale programs that prepare students for postsecondary success – whether that means college or career.

An Educational Revolution, Revisited

Since the Smith-Hughes Act a century ago, vocational programs have had a home in American public education systems. To varying degrees and in varying forms, secondary schools have provided training focused primarily on career paths that didn’t require a college degree. Their goal: to ensure students had options as a high school diploma became the minimum – but often insufficient – credential for upward mobility.


While the north star has always been to preserve these postsecondary options for students, precisely how that manifested has morphed over time. In recent decades, the pendulum swung toward college preparation (driven by college-degree-holding ed reformers) – with the recognition that a bachelor’s is worth a million more dollars than a high school diploma over the course of one’s career. The implication was that everyone should go to college (a loyalist’s somewhat-hyperbolic critique, as I was one such reformer working for greater college access).

This movement made real headway: College degree attainment in the U.S. is now at its highest level ever.

Now, though, education policymakers are embracing a broader definition of student success to, through, beyond, and even instead of, college: A primary goal of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the federal law governing K-12 education in this country – is preparing all students for a successful college experience and fulfilling career. Every public high school is thus required to offer college and career counseling and college-credit courses to all students.

As the saying goes, what’s new is old and what’s old is new.

CTE is seeing renewed emphasis with the recent passage of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (“Perkins V,” the latest update to the Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act). The law promotes engagement with local industry and more flexible use of funds to improve CTE and work-based initiatives.

These federal changes are flowing through to states and districts, which now have greater freedom to align workforce needs with standards and curriculum:

  • 91% of superintendents say they’d scale back curricular demands in favor of workforce development.
  • Districts are identifying in-demand career clusters to determine how best to prepare their students for the jobs of the future: 73% of superintendents nationwide are partnering with local businesses for job training. Those who don’t yet say it’s a top priority.
  • In Texas, extra incentives will help districts prioritize career and college placement, with the goal of having 60% of adults in the state achieve a college degree or workforce credential by 2030.


Postsecondary and Professional Preparation

While CTE and workplace training programs are back in vogue, opting to focus on career training or college preparation is a false choice. They’re one and the same – especially as we approach a world in which nearly two-thirds of jobs require education beyond high school.

What K-12 leaders are realizing is that both goals – improving college enrollment and career training – can be advanced through these programs, because they boost classroom engagement and relevance while building transferable skills:

  • Education research firm Hanover found in its 2019 K-12 Trends Report that 91% of students who earn CTE credits enroll in a postsecondary institution
  • Chicago Public Schools sees increased classroom engagement and college-going rates among its 16,000 CTE participants district-wide
  • Graduates of Cristo Rey, a national private school network which runs a mandatory work-study program, persist in college at three times the average for low-income students

Future of Education Week

The Future of Education: From School to College and Career

Just what do these programs look like in practice? And how is technology used to scale them?

1. Chicago Public Schools (CPS)

    “Because of Salesforce and the data we’re able to capture, I can tell you immediately how many students have engaged in work-based learning this year and in previous years, where they worked, and what they did. This enables us to provide more on-demand, strategic support for all of our students.” – Alexander George, Work-Based Learning Specialist

Learn more about CPS’ expansive CTE curriculum.

2. Denver Public Schools (DPS)

    “Salesforce has given us a clear picture of who we partner with and how students gain access to work-based learning programs that can better their future.” – Theress Pidick, Director of Work-Based Learning

Learn more about CareerConnect within DPS.

3. Cristo Rey Network

    “Salesforce has provided standardization among what we do at schools. Now every school using this platform has an identical rating system and identical timecards. And we’re better able to match students with the best appropriate job.” – Mark Bazin, CTO

Learn more about Cristo Rey’s work-study college preparatory initiative.

And check out this webinar recording (and slides) for a deep dive on how DPS and Cristo Rey are preparing students for college and career.