The journey from high school to the first day of college requires many steps. From college and financial aid application forms, to selecting courses and navigating a new campus, the changes can be daunting.
In Pasco, education leaders are striving to make part of the journey easier by creating a clearer and more seamless academic path for students.
It started with some crayons and a paper tablecloth. Over dinner at a national conference a few years ago, the Director of CTE Dual Credit at Columbia Basin College (CBC) and the Director of Career and Technical Education at the Pasco School District started to brainstorm. What could it look like to enable students to successfully make the jump from K-12 to post-high school education? They set about identifying challenges and mapping a vision of seamless pathways for students to transition smoothly to and accelerate through their postsecondary experience.
The pair worked to create bridges between high school, college, and career by analyzing existing course offerings and determining clear sequences of study for different subjects and career paths. They developed tools to help students visualize dual credit classes, which enable students to earn both high school and college credit simultaneously. The tools also illustrate how credits translate into progress toward a credential for five areas of study – agriculture, computer science, early childhood education, business, and general trades.
“We wanted all students to see a fit for themselves,” said Keeley Gant, previous employee of CBC and now Director of Career and Technical Education for ESD123. “We wanted them to see that they could earn college credit and were college-capable, which helps light the fire for students.”
Collaboration between Pasco high schools and CBC
The Pasco team created two course sequence options in each of the five areas of study: one generalized pathway and one accelerated pathway so that all students could identify themselves on the roadmap to high school graduation and beyond.
Both pathways afford students opportunities to earn industry-recognized credentials (IRCs) along the way, as well as an acceleration route that led to a postsecondary certificate – such as an associate’s degree – along with high school graduation. The pathway maps were published in the course catalog so counselors and families could see the progression.
In addition, education leaders from the high schools and CBC worked closely together to analyze and align course offerings and streamline students’ experiences in several fields of study. For example, within computer science, the team identified that making available one more high school course for college credit would ease the path to earning an associate’s degree upon high school graduation. CBC also assisted by revising its short-term certificate based on local high school course offerings, thus making the certificate more attainable.
Improving understanding of dual credit opportunities
The team also created advising tools that show students how dual credit classes map to credential opportunities, such as certificates and two- or four-year college degrees, which career paths they map to based on educational attainment, and salary ranges.
Laura Jones is the Pasco School District CTE Director and a former career and technical education teacher in Pasco, as well as a past Washington state teacher of the year. She also participated in this project and noted how important it is to help students understand how to use their transcripts.
“It’s about helping students understand what to do with their credits to boost their success in college,” she said of opportunities that allow high school students to earn college credit.
National research indicates that earning college credit in high school is associated with a higher likelihood of graduating high school, persisting into a second year of postsecondary education, and completing a bachelor’s degree within four years. Dual credit opportunities can greatly impact a student’s self-efficacy and improve rates at which students enroll in college.
Improved High School and Beyond Planning processes
Jones also noted that the district is using software to improve students’ High School and Beyond Planning (HSBP) experience. Starting in 8th grade, the platform helps students assess their career interests, research information about careers, and look at educational programs for that career. The platform can help them plan courses needed for the career path and has a system for creating a portfolio with a resume, awards, and letters of recommendation.
At the high school level, the HSBP process facilitates a visual map of classes students will take. As students take career and interest surveys, they can see classes to pursue and how they might fit into a sequence that would lead to a meaningful progression toward a career.
“We really wanted students to not only meet their high school graduation requirements but do so while acquiring early acceleration and experience in postsecondary education and training in their career areas of interest,” Gant said.
Additional efforts underway will further support counselors and educators in knowing how to use the HSBP tool.
Intentional partnership is essential for results
Jones said there are positive results emerging from Pasco’s pathways efforts. In senior exit surveys, graduating students are applying for scholarships at a higher rate, and they are also indicating more awareness of their options and more clarity about their next steps.
The pathways effort grew out of abundant collaboration between high school and college administration, faculty, and instructors.
“We collaborate, we talk all of the time, we borrow from each other, and we make intentional time to get together,” Gant said.
Pasco leaders offered a few other pieces of advice for high school/college partnerships seeking to support more students to successfully transition into post-high school credential programs:
- Look for barriers and remove them. For example, provide high school students who are participating in dual credit courses ID cards for the college, and administer college placement tests on high school campuses.
- Collaborate across the K-12 and postsecondary education sectors. Have conversations at the same table, including counselors, and ask what they need.
- Add advisory time to the high school schedule so students have dedicated time and support to work on college and career readiness planning.