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An Improved Vision for Career Pathways

Short-term credentials and career pathways have been much talked about in the higher education space over the past year, but they have yet to include adults earning high school credentials. Creating pathways that include non-traditional high school education is a crucial part of supporting often marginalized students.

“Write the vision and make it plain.” That is what the good book, says, right? As Wayne Community College grappled with enrollment declines and strategies to uncover untapped markets, we sought to put our vision for career pathways on paper in a way that made it plain for students, faculty and staff to understand the options available to them.

Wayne Community College, like many of our sister institutions across the county, is facing enrollment declines as echoed from strategic enrollment management (SEM) models and books. For instance, in his guide, SEM Core Concepts:  Building Blocks for Institutional and Student Success,” Wayne Sigler identifies a “declining number of high school graduates in many states and uneven population growth across geographic areas.” We are a witness to this growing trend in Goldsboro, North Carolina, home of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, where our population growth is flat.

As a result, academic leaders began exploring how to share career pathways in a way that has not been talked about, with our adult students, completing their high school credential. Our Transitional Programs Department houses an Adult High School Diploma Program (AHS), High School Equivalency Program (HSE) and English Language Learner Program (ELL). These students have not historically been targeted for recruitment to the credit programs at the College. Over the last few years, this has been changing. In addition to creating scholarship opportunities funded by our foundation, we decided to discuss career pathways beyond just credit programs by including our non-credit programming and mapping these pathways for our adult students earning their high school credential.  

North Carolina boasts the Basic Skills Plus Program, which was approved by our legislature in 2010. It allows students performing at the adult secondary education level to be co-enrolled in occupational courses while earning their adult high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma. Tuition for eligible credit and non-credit courses is waived for these students, which is a huge advantage. This sets many students on the path to occupational training tied to licenses, certifications and training that provide sustainable wages for their families. Therefore, this was the perfect place for us to start building out our career pathways.  

Working with Transitional Programs staff, we identified Basic Skills Plus courses that had been approved in each academic division. Once that was done, our directors and coordinators in Workforce Continuing Education mapped occupational short-term training that would be a logical progression and next step along the career pathway. These courses may include our Human Resources Development (HRD) courses that provide a tuition waiver for individuals who meet one of four eligibility criteria: unemployed, working and earn below the 200% poverty guidelines, have received notification of a pending lay-off or are working and eligible for Earned Income Tax Credit (FEIT). The next step included working with the academic deans in each of our five divisions to further map programs in each of the career pathways areas. It sounds like an easy task, but the exercise of having to think through this, put it on paper and illustrate it in a way that makes sense for the masses took a little more patience.  

I am not sure about other institutions, but we have not been in the habit of discussing career pathways in a way that includes short-term training and certainly not those who are working to complete high school. It has been a rewarding conversation that hopefully will lead our students to success and, if we are lucky, provide a healthy enrollment pool.

To date, we have successfully completed the graphics for career pathways in our Advanced Manufacturing/Applied Technologies division with a focus on welding and driver training and allied health. Each of these also includes our opportunities for credit for prior learning for short-term occupational courses taken by our students. Our goal now is for these pathways to be displayed and used on our campus by recruiters, advisors, success coaches, achievement coaches, instructors, career advisors and anyone in conversation with students about their career pathway. We also have plans to further share this information in a collaborative space on our college website. No matter where a student begins his or her academic journey at our college, we are creating the paths to show them how they can reach their goals.  

This approach is what we all should explore. There are valuable training opportunities in our adult education and short-term training programs. Taking the extra step to connect these programs to degree, certificate and diploma credit programs is what makes sense to us as we try to move our needles toward success and achievement for all of our students.  With the appropriate supports in place to include counseling, contextualized learning, collaboration, communication and identification of skills needed in our local and state economies, embracing career pathways that connect to our adult learners should allow colleges better prepare and meet the needs of individuals entering the workforce.  

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