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College AND Career Ready?

The “and career” in the title of this blog provoked some interesting conversations within the AVID Center. Since our mission is “to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society,” staff asked me some challenging questions.

“Are we changing our focus, shifting away from four-year college success?”

“Are we now becoming devoted to vocational efforts?”

“Are we routing students away from courses such as AP, IB, and dual enrollment, so that they can take career courses?”

“Not exactly,” I said. We’ve always emphasized that every AVID graduate should focus on attending a four-year college or university after high school. As you will see from our latest data, most do.

However, what about the idea of a career focus? How can we resolve the perceived juxtaposition between college readiness and career readiness? Let me start with the thinking of Dr. David Conley, whose research and writing have been a strong influence on our work in recent years. In his new book, College and Career Ready—Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School, Conley builds on his previous work, College Knowledge, and makes his strongest case yet that the two concepts are inter-related. He writes that we should judge our high schools’ success “in proportion to the degree to which they prepare their students to continue to learn beyond high school.” I would argue that school districts should be viewed through the same lens. Dr. Conley further defines continuing to learn as “the ability to engage in formal learning in any of a wide range of settings: university and college classrooms, community college two-year certificate programs, apprenticeships that require formal classroom instruction as one component…” In short, Conley emphasizes postsecondary readiness, not simply admission to college. He replaces work preparedness with career readiness. He believes that if we set high standards for all students, we provide them an opportunity to proceed on a career pathway, not just training for a job.

Conley notes that the discussion about college and career readiness is one of our “great debates taking shape nationally.” In a recent ACCESS interview I asked him to describe why educators and community members sometimes have trouble thinking of college and career readiness as closely connected. Not surprisingly, Conley says the problem is mostly due to the design of our high schools, which “accumulate geological layers of policies and practices,” and lack academic coherence. Moreover, he says, our assumptions about which students are college material further inhibit student progress, especially difficult for those who are the first in their families to consider college.

Conley’s own experience as the first in his family to attend college is well described in his book and contrasted with the recent high school graduate, “Genevieve,” whom he describes in the book’s afterword. Assisted in school navigation by her college-educated parents, Genevieve experienced much less variability, had teachers who recognized her gifts, took the necessary courses, understood her options, and went on to attend MIT. Conley’s experience in a typical suburban high school in the 60’s was very different. I think you will find his description of two contrasting routes illuminating.

What I like about Conley’s work is that he is practical and research-based, and he describes the qualities and behaviors expected of a college-ready student: persistence, precision, focus, inquisitiveness, problem solving, and awareness—just to mention a few. Conley’s four dimensions of college and career readiness, along with the seven principles for schools that exemplify college and career readiness, provide a useful roadmap for school teams. He does not always paint a cheerful picture, noting the disconnect between the expectations of high school teachers and those of college instructors, and the gap between their respective institutions. He brings up other pertinent issues such as grade inflation, low expectations and barriers faced by low-income and minority students, and school systems that are really not systematic at all. But he doesn’t just discuss problems. He offers viable solutions as well. 

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Reader Comments (8)

Mr. Gira:

Thanks for posting.

I like the emphasis on "postsecondary readiness" that includes a wide-ranging skill set needed to enter the workforce.

"Career readiness/pathways" might be old thinking given what we know about late 20th, and early 21st Century job markets. Certainly educators, scientists, lawyers and doctors will hunker down for the long haul in a "career" but many who come out of college have to be flexible and prepared to continue their education as "lifelong learners" moving into and out of different fields. "Career" these days may mean three, four, or more job changes in a lifetime.

Am curious to know if you, or Conley, have come across any data that sheds light on what happens to students once they're in college; all those who are undeclared majors or those who go to college convinced they know where they're headed and end up being derailed by a particular course that enchants and intrigues.

What happens when such students find themselves going in a new direction because of a particular professor's lecture in a general education class, or a particular book on an "additional readings" list, or a conversation they may have had with a respected peer or graduate student?

I just never hear anyone talk about how AVID is providing its students with an opportunity to explore the "universe" of ideas and thoughts at our colleges and universites.

In my view getting to college means one's world has been enlarged and expanded. It's a place where we begin asking questions we've never asked before and where our understanding of the world is altered and enriched.

I would argue that the critical lessons for us to learn at the university have less to do with money and jobs and more to do with how to live well and contribute postively to our communities (I know there's a community service component in the AVID program.)

I'm with James Hillman here, a maverick Jungian. See Scott London's "On Soul, Character and Calling: A Conversation with James Hillman"


London: In our culture we tend to think of calling in terms of "vocation" or "career."

Hillman: Yes, but calling can refer not only to ways of doing — meaning work — but also to ways of being. Take being a friend. Goethe said that his friend Eckermann was born for friendship. Aristotle made friendship one of the great virtues. In his book on ethics, three or four chapters are on friendship. In the past, friendship was a huge thing. But it's hard for us to think of friendship as a calling, because it's not a vocation.

I take great pleasure in working at AVID because I know we're helping kids get an opportunity to expand their minds, broaden their horizons and learn how to BE in the world.

Thanks again Rob for launching this College Readiness blog.

Yours truly on the AVID Center Help Desk,

Mark K Bennett

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMKB

The Conley book is a difficult read for me. Like Dave, I didn't know how or even why to get a university education. My high school counselor was emphatic when he said I would make a terrific secretary. At AVID I have always seen myself as an outsider amongst giants with degrees because I could never, as an adult, afford to go beyond community college. I guess it's my goal to help kids like me. It's one of my driving passions.

October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJill DIckens

Ms. Dickens... Cat Lee popped this clip onto my Facebook Wall. A commencement speech at Stanford by a guy who dropped out of college. The themes in the speech are worth pondering:


October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMKB

Thanks for jump starting my brain and providing links to further information. I have referenced and participated in multiple discussion about the previous article with friends and family, and I am sure I will do the same with this one. What an interesting topic for a Socratic seminar in an AVID classroom. Can't wait to share with the AVID Coordinators. I am not very tech. savvy when it comes to blogs. Do I have the abiltiy to register for this blog and receive an email when a new article is added?

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Josephson

Hi Kathy,
You can subscribe to the RSS feed by clicking on the link in the right navigation column of this blog. If you click on the "Blog RSS" you will just get the updates of the blog. If you click on the "Blog Comments RSS" then you'll get all of the comments as well. If you are new to RSS feeds, here's a good link to learn more about them.

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Kick

Mark, very few would bring Goethe into a discussion on College annd Career Readiness, but you are on the money. I think the nature of postsecondary education will change significantly in the coming years. The notion of being a "life-long learner" has probably been trivialized a bit, but it still prevails. When we think about our best professors and teachers, many of us recall them as comfortable with ambiguity, enthusiastic, supportive, and willing to be challenged. Sort of like a good friend. Michael Fullan puts "love" at the forefront of his writing on the change process.

Jill, it is true that we value a college degree significantly at the AVID Center, but not entirely for the financial weight it carries (the data is strong here) as much as for its connection to our democracy. That was always the number one point that Mary Catherine made and still notes that today when she speaks and writes for us.

Kathy, I'm glad that this is stirring up some discussions for you.

October 7, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob Gira

Great blog. I like the way you have it laid out. How can I subscribe to RSS? Thanks.www.giftfashions.com

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershadows

freelance writer

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarolMclean27

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