We just concluded a celebration of CTE month in February and it is refreshing to see a renewed interest in preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow. States, including West Virginia, have set postsecondary attainment goals so that their citizens are better prepared for in-demand, high wage jobs. If students are to be truly prepared for the future of work, a quality education is the key and it should equip them to unlock any door. Families should be able to customize an education that will meet a student’s needs and unique learning style, and also prepare them to make informed decisions about their futures. Educational options – both school choice and innovative programs like career and technical education – should be available to meet these needs.
I envision the future of education like designing a new car from the ground up with the outcome in mind. You can pick and choose the inputs based on what you like and what you plan to do in the car – color, trim package, trailering package if you want to tow a camper, Bose speaker system if you’re passionate about music, or all-terrain tires for off-roading adventures.
Now, take a student who wants a career in computer science. According to Code.org, West Virginia has 1,005 open computing jobs, which is 2.4 times the average demand rate, and the average salary for a computing occupation in the state is $75,109. Start with courses that count towards graduation AND lead to college credit through Advanced Placement math, science, and computer science courses at a public school. Add in credits earned for completing a 16-week coding bootcamp. Take courses that lead to CompTIA Network+ and Security+ industry certifications. And voila, the student has marketable skills and will ultimately be ready to take on a career in cybersecurity, which has an average salary of just over $100,000 in West Virginia.
Students today have access to more knowledge, expertise, and opportunity than ever before and our education system must allow them to take advantage of that access. States should incentivize customization and innovation through both opportunity and innovation policies. This will require West Virginia to think outside of the box and pursue policies that will allow traditional public schools to innovate and allow students to find the right pathway that fits their needs and future plans.
- A STEM-focused charter school could prepare students to become certified pharmacy technicians, which is a credential in high-demand in West Virginia according to ExcelinEd’s Credentials Matter research.
- The state could consider incentive funding for schools who offer, and whose students complete, courses leading to in-demand industry-recognized credentials that align with job prospects across West Virginia.
- An Education Scholarship Account program, which allows parents to tailor an education to their child’s needs, could allow students to take courses at their local public school, receive needed therapies, and complete courses through dual enrollment to earn college credit prior to graduating high school.
The possibilities are endless if we view educational opportunity broadly and expand options for students.
You can learn more about opportunity and career and technical education policies at ExcelinEd.org.
Ashley DeMauro Mullins is the Northeast Regional Legislative Director for ExcelinEd in Action.