Career Readiness: No New Definition Needed

Treasurer, Faculty Coordinator, Statewide Career Pathways

At the Spring 2013 ASCCC Plenary Session, several faculty members expressed interest in a last minute resolution adopted on the consent calendar:

13.04 S13 College and Career Readiness
Whereas, Students graduating high school need to be prepared to either attend college, go to work or join the military, or make other life choices that require knowledge or skills learned in high school;

Whereas, In this context “college ready” means a graduate is likely to be successful entering into college and “career ready” means a graduate is likely to be successful moving into a pathway that will prepare him/her for a specific job, such as entering into an apprenticeship program or entry level job; and

Whereas, Students who are challenged and encouraged to take a rigorous, varied, and progressively more challenging curriculum in high school will be better prepared for the many eventualities that occur when students leave high school;

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges take the position that “college readiness” and “career readiness” standards for high school graduates are the same.

This resolution is intended to help Academic Senate representatives to form a position on the emerging K-12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards are being developed and adopted by many states to address concerns stemming from the prior decade of No Child Left Behind policy. However, while the movement toward these new standards may in many ways yield positive results, a potentially detrimental impact on students could result from differing definitions and expectations regarding preparation for traditional academic work as opposed to other career or educational paths.

High schools have expressed their interest and willingness in working with California community colleges to help set and be clear about appropriate expectations for students who will in eventually arrive in our classrooms, but they also must serve and set reasonable expectations for those students who are not going directly into college. To this end, groups working to implement the CCSS have coined the term “College and Career Readiness” and are now discussing what this term actually means. Much work has been done to define college readiness, but the same is not true for career readiness. A similar debate is occurring at the national level. Resolution 13.04 S13 serves to provide ASCCC liaisons a position from which to advocate regarding these issues.

Title 5 regulations define college level coursework as instruction that requires critical thinking skills. In establishing this definition, Title 5 §55002(2)(F) states, “The course work calls for critical thinking and the understanding and application of concepts determined by the curriculum committee to be at college level.” This same requirement does not exist for noncredit or non-degree applicable credit coursework because the intention is that these levels of instruction prepare students to become effective critical thinkers. College level coursework then seeks to build upon that threshold. If this language and its implications are applied to the exiting skills to be held by graduating high school students, then the capacity to think critically is a very good standard that is clearly necessary whether the student moves into college or into the workplace.

While this regulatory language might help to establish a simple definition of appropriate preparation, the issue is complicated by potentially different interpretations of word meanings. The term “career readiness” is difficult to define without proper context. Certainly a high school graduate is not ready to be sent out to repair an airplane, nor is he or she ready to insert an IV into a patient or to properly contain and arrest a criminal. But if the student is “critical thinking” capable as defined in Title 5 regulations, then in this context “career ready” can be used to describe a graduate who is ready to enter into a career pathway. This context does not discount that such a student will likely need a lot more training and education as he or she transitions into and within many, if not most, careers. In addition, many entry-level jobs are not necessarily long-term career pathways, but a student who can critically think will still be able to thrive therein, possibly with some initial and ongoing in-service training. Thus, the ability to think critically is as much a requirement for developing career skills as it is for college-level coursework as defined by Title 5.

For these reasons, a student who can read, write, communicate, and perform math at college entry-levels possesses the foundational learning skills necessary for critical thinking in both the academic and workplace arenas. However, Title 5 regulations go further in implying that preparation for critical thinking is not an end goal for college coursework. Other elements found in Title 5 regulations regarding college level credit courses seek to ensure a level and intensity that infers skills and capacities commonly found in the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Effective critical thinkers therefore need to go beyond the simple preparation of the lower levels to make connections and actively engage in reasonably sophisticated mental and emotional processes.

Thus, including the traditional four year high school sequence of math and English, students should also be able to solve problems and address issues common to adulthood in today’s society. They should have exposure to a variety of professional and trades experiences. They should be interdependent enough to manage many aspects of life, to ask questions and adapt behavior in order to successfully navigate systems and processes, and to be active learners who can discover new applications of prior learning in new environments.

A recent article from the April 2013 Rostrum titled “College and Career Readiness” touched on this same subject and provided some additional background information. A variety of related ongoing discussions call upon us to be clear about our expectations of students as they come into our programs. We must provide effective pathways for those students who have demonstrated they meet these expectations.

These conclusions help to establish a working definition of college and career readiness developed to guide ASCCC representatives as they serve on the CCSS assessment advisory body. Within this broader context, Resolution 13.04 S13 makes formal the position that the skills to be entry-ready for a college pathway should be the same as being entry-ready for a career pathway.