Clear Choices Lead to Clear Pathways

College and Career readiness have become a focal point for America’s high schools in recent years as most states have implemented a graduate profile system. College and career readiness are critical indicators for graduation. Some describe secondary school career education as a proactive way to help students see the connection between their academics and real-world outcomes. Recent studies also show that many factors influence the ultimate impact of career education. Career decision-making skills and post-secondary transition plans remain underdeveloped after high school for many students. The Harvard Business Review states there’s a direct disconnect between education and employability in the U.S., where employers view universities and colleges as the gatekeepers of workforce talent. Yet, those same institutions aren’t prioritizing job skills and career readiness.

For instance, America’s shift toward a knowledge-based economy means that most students consider post-secondary training, and many decide to go to college. 59% of students at universities in America fail to finish college in four years. There is speculation that this finding is associated with students changing majors, presumably as they discover that the program, they selected was not what they expected and that another degree was more appealing. Supporting this notion is a study in the Journal of Education Enquiry, which found that many students are under-informed when planning post-secondary education in high school.

African American students are less likely to be college-ready. In fact, 61% of ACT-tested black students in the 2018 high school graduating class met none of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks, nearly twice the 31% rate for all students. College degrees are regarded as a primary vehicle for reducing poverty and closing the wealth gaps between people of color and whites. Yet, the disparities that exist are alarming. The Wall Street Journal just published an article that stated going to college was supposed to close the wealth gap, but the exact opposite has happened.

National Survey of Black Women states most worry about children’s education and cited lack of educational opportunities as a key barrier to economic success. The ability to afford higher education is a top concern for 47%, as well. College access and affordability are of greater concern for single Black women across age groups — 55% fear that they won’t be able to afford higher education for themselves or a family member.

According to a study by Digital Promise, In the last year, educators, students, and families have shifted to online, hybrid, and even a new form of in-person learning. School counselors have been hard hit by this transition, learning to work with students virtually while losing their most valuable asset, face-to-face interactions. Due to a lack of classroom time and in-person events, many career planning activities have taken a back seat to navigate distance and hybrid learning. More than 80% of educators say the pandemic has hampered their ability to provide students’ career planning activities. Typically, counselors spend the fall semester introducing students to career paths to prepare them for academic course planning, college planning, and internships. Nearly two-thirds of educators say they are teaching fewer career lessons this year than they were last year.

The activities that have the most significant impact are most effective in a face-to-face or group setting, which is not surprising. There has been a substantial drop in attendance at career fairs, guest speakers, job shadowing, and apprenticeship programs across the board. The impact of career assessments and searches, strengths assessments, CTE course attendance, and resume writing has been minimal. One way to address these issues is to use online tools such as interest inventories, career assessments, and strengths explorers to help students understand their strengths and interests. Students will connect the dots to their career interests better as they realize who they are.

At the NExT- Caps Summer Bash last year, I had the opportunity to speak about equity and access in the COVID 19 era, and I was contacted by Paris Gamble, COO of Lifestyle Learning, the parent company of Career Navideer. Paris was full of energy about what was lacking in our current system to empower all students, especially students of color, regarding college transition planning and career readiness. He introduced me to Career Navideer and the great work and research of Dr. Anthony DePass, CEO of Lifestyle Learning. Here is what I learned and how this program is being used to help students across the nation:

  • In Higher Ed: Career Navideer aligns lifestyle, education, and occupational information to navigate career decision-making.
  • For K-12: Career Navideer provides an engaging experience for students, guidance counselors, and educators envisioning lifestyle and related career paths
  • For parents: Career Navideer is a powerful collaborative tool that empowers families with lifestyle, career, and financial information as they navigate the career landscape.

What is Career Navideer?

Career Navideer is a browsable interactive, data-driven web-based platform that aligns user input regarding six lifestyle areas (location, housing, eating habits, transportation, leisure, family) with generating a Lifestyle Index that reflects the current cost of living and salary requirements based on the lifestyle choices. User priority choices are made from Work Values (independence, recognition, working conditions, relationships, achievement, and support); Education (high school, some college, baccalaureate, masters, doctoral and professional degrees, etc.); and over 40 Work Activities (decision making, sales, training, machines, data analysis, problem-solving, etc.). The Lifestyle Index information and user priority choices are used to query 1,100 occupations spanning 50,000 job titles.

Users are then provided a browsable set of aligned occupations, with the ability to group by broad STEM or more concentrated areas (cybersecurity, etc.). Summary and information related to each occupation and detailed reports cover: salaries (national and state), 10-year demand projections, underrepresentation based on gender and minority status, range of education levels of individuals currently in that occupation, work tasks and levels of importance, knowledge areas, and relative depth for that specific occupation, demanded skills and abilities, work styles, work activities, survey data from individuals in each occupation regarding work routines and workplace demands, and much more.

Users are also provided information on required certifications and post-secondary training programs, and career-specific financial management information. Additionally, users can browse at least 100 videos for each occupation and randomly selected job titles (a day in the life of…etc.), audio (podcasts), and presentations related to each field. Users can also generate tables that compare multiple occupations and job titles across several areas (education, demand projections, training, salaries, work values, etc.).

How does it work?

Career Navideer assists people of all ages and stages in answering crucial lifestyle questions. At the same time, Career Navideer allows individuals to explore education and skill set requirements, job duties, workplace values, and job growth and decline in various industries. Career Navideer is also a valuable resource for those returning to the workforce or seeking to change careers. Through this exploration, participants can also establish and chart personal goals.

Career Navideer’s distinct differences are its “lifestyle first” focus and its data aggregation into user-friendly, personalized modules and career clusters. It challenges, expands, and incorporates Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) as students move through elementary, secondary, and higher education, and professional studies as well as the trades.

Where is it being used?

Career Navideer is currently used as a tool for career exploration by K-12 students, as well as those in higher education, societal reentry, and professionals.  For the K-12 version of Career Navideer, the curriculum information is adopted for the classroom. That version also provides grade-specific alignment between skills, abilities, and curricula in middle and high schools. There are also social-emotional learning components, including the ability to select from 20 “gurus” as guides through the platform with ample gender, career, and ethnic representation. There is also a section with a game interface for the K-12 version where students can play to align academic and social practices that are consistent with the occupation of their choice.

In K-12:

  • ASTEC Charter School – Oklahoma (middle school and high school)
  • Upward Bound Program (Seton Hall)

In higher education:

  • Savannah State University
  • Cal State – Channel Islands
  • Delaware State University
  • University of Missouri

Career Navideer can be used in self-directed ways by K-12 students as well as in the classroom where we provide grade-specific curricula for classroom implementation. It can also be presented in workshops on career decision-making, financial preparation, career skills development, lifestyle, and career exploration.

Student at a graduation ceremony

What impact is Career Navideer having on students and families?

When used by an undergraduate summer research program that included students from three colleges, most participating students reported that Career Navideer was the most meaningful activity of all the research and professional development activities done for the summer.

From ASTEC Charter (middle school students):

  • 75% of middle school students using the program reported that they would recommend using Career Navideer to other students.
  • 91% of middle school students tested reported that Career Navideer should be available to all students.
  • 43% of middle school students reported that using Career Navideer caused them to reconsider what they thought they wanted t to do when they grew up.

From teachers: 

“Students learned about different career options and the path (degrees) that needed for those careers.”

“We could hear the students were talking about Career Navideer in the hallway.”

Also, in a user survey:

  • 92% of all student respondents indicated that having prior knowledge of what a career entails is vital to developing an interest in a career (Source: Influence of Student Interests on Career Choice).
  • Students drop out mainly because they don’t see a clear connection between their education and the real world. 28% of college students drop out before they even become a sophomore (Source: Credit Donkey).

As students navigate the challenges of going to school in the COVID Delta new normal, we need to assist them in making choices that allow them to reach their unbounded potential. Tools like Career Navideer can help!

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Rating the Value of Higher Education

“Higher education is a racket that sells you a very expensive ticket to the upper-middle class,” said Bill Mahr. The comedian put a fine point on America’s growing frustration with steady price increases and the perception of a declining return on investment from postsecondary studies.

Exacerbating the frustration has been the gradual increase in degree requirements for jobs that don’t really need them. And as degrees became more expensive and widely sought, they became a weaker proxy for a bundle of skills.

“Higher education is not worth the cost to students anymore.” Nearly two-thirds of respondents to a New America survey agreed with this statement, up from just under half in the first such survey last August. Survey respondents think they are paying too much–even the ones that find value in higher education.

In a recent podcast series, author Malcolm Gladwell noted that college ranking systems like US News & World Report contributed to this problem by sorting on privilege–endowment, selectivity, and spending. Rankings punish schools like Dillard that enroll a high percentage of low-income Black students and keep tuition low.

A New Way to Think About Value

There is a new way to think about the contribution of higher education–both for individuals and communities. The Postsecondary Value Commission, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, issued a report in May offering a new way to describe the value of higher education, particularly for underrepresented groups. The framework gauges how specific institutions and programs create value for students and ensure equitable completion and post-college outcomes.

Rather than rewarding privilege, the new framework encourages a more equitable higher education system and just society by:

  • Equalizing access to increase postsecondary value,
  • Removing affordability as an impediment,
  • Eliminating completion gaps and strengthening post-college outcomes,
  • Exposing sources of inequity, and
  • Promoting equitable postsecondary value.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is developing measures and crunching the data associated with the new framework and could issue a new sort of ranking system that better reflects value contributions by postsecondary institutions.

The agenda also includes critical questions which students and families should expect institutions to answer as they determine which institutions and programs can provide them with the most value. A new ranking system from IHEP would help high school students make more informed decisions about college attendance.

The Higher Ed Value Agenda

The Value Commission report encourages policymakers to boost need-based aid. It encourages higher ed leaders to create clear paths to certificates and degrees connected to family-wage employment including improved academic mapping and advising, more targeted financial and academic support, and better use of data to identify disparities in serving students.

The report suggests learners need to be “empowered to ask fair questions about the costs and benefits of institutions and programs.” That may be aided by better consumer information from IHEP that displaces privilege-based ratings in high school guidance.

While the report states that “Institutions that keep prices low for students can deliver exceptional economic value,” it is largely silent on the cost control and affordability agenda (other than calls for more aid).

The report made three academic recommendations to build value:

  1. Pathways: create pathways to degree completion and careers. When combined with early warning systems and strong supports, pathways and cohort groups could lead to stronger completion rates.
  2. Skills: embed experiences that develop core employer-demanded skills into pathways. When core skills are assessed, credentialed, and incorporated into a portable digital record, they support the growing trend of skills-based hiring.
  3. Work-based learning: offer meaningful in-school employment opportunities, and develop paid internship opportunities and apprenticeship programs that build students’ skills, social capital, and networks.

To regain trust and bolster return on investment, many colleges and degree programs need an aggressive innovation and cost control agenda building on some of the pandemic agility developed over the last 18 months.

A new rating system would help communicate value in new and better ways and would remove the perverse incentives of current rankings.

Learner Advice

The commission report offers a new way to calculate the value of college that will provide much-improved insights to college aspirants in the coming decade. However, the increased cost of college, a rapidly shifting employment landscape, and new affordable alternatives suggest an emerging set of rules for postsecondary planning:

  1. Free: get all the free learning you can–and try to get credit and/or credentials for it. Focus on skill-building and communicating your capabilities.
  2. Fit: pick a college or training program with strong completion and employment rates. Program quality and fit are more important than selectivity.
  3. Limit Debt: If you don’t get a full scholarship, be cautious about taking on college debt–attend affordable institutions and work while you learn. Consider free (or debt-free) training programs with high placement rates in high wage/high demand jobs.

Value is the new watchword for postsecondary learning–and that’s much more about delivering quality and affordability than a ranking based on privilege.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.


The Journey Of One High School Counselor’s Efforts To Redefine College Advising For All

High school counselors work tirelessly in supporting their students’ efforts to attend the colleges and universities of their choice. And although these efforts produce tremendous results for many, Laura Kazan is not satisfied with the status quo.

Redefining the Mission

Although now a college and career advisor for a large independent study and homeschool program known as iLEAD Exploration, Kazan is uniquely informed by her initial career as a university researcher. While pursuing her PhD, Kazan studied how social capital and one’s networks are what influences students’ college success. She learned that this was especially true in many homeschool and unschooling communities.

“I became very concerned with the systemic factors that keep students out of college or from even seeking these opportunities at all,” said Kazan. “I began to see in real-time how parent networks push learners up or down when it comes to college,” said Kazan.

Creating the Infrastructure

Her initial call to action crystallized with the formation of College Seekers – a non-profit organization aimed at educating parents and communities.

“I wanted to make a significant contribution to what I felt was a systemic problem,” said Kazan. Kazan began doing the workshops focused on getting better information into these networks. “I realized I had to get to the parents because their understanding and mindsets were creating limitations,” said Kazan.

Three years ago, Kazan’s workshops began to attract larger groups and led to the formation of the Facebook Group CA Homeschool College Seekers. Kazan said she was motivated after hearing a lot of misinformation about college at counselor conferences.

She also knew that homeschool families face additional pressures of constantly wondering if they are taking away options vs. creating them.

“When you homeschool your child, you feel the responsibility at a greater level,” said Kazan.

The Parent Experience

Parents from these communities are very appreciative of the information, support and the network as well.

According to Maura Mikulec, homeschooling parent of sons ages 19 and 22, CA Homeschool College Seekers has been invaluable as she navigated the college application process for her younger son.

“Despite being very involved and having gone through this process previously, the crowdsourcing made available by the group is critical when it all becomes relevant, real and timely,” said Mikulec.

Mikulec reminds us that a group is only as good as its participants and groups like this rely on quality moderation with factual information from people like Kazan.

“She and her partners no doubt spend countless hours doing research, attending conferences, communicating with college professionals, moderating discussions and contributing to the content on the site,” said Mikulec. “As I share my son’s college application journey – including acceptance to four University of California campuses – I cannot thank enough Kazan and her group at CA Homeschool College Seekers.”

Another homeschool parent Anne Ryan concurs. Her daughter just got accepted to UCLA and said it is such an arduous and challenging process at times that support like this is extremely important.

“College Seekers has been extremely helpful in our college journey. I have total confidence in the up-to-date information regarding college admissions, oftentimes more accurate than my local community college,” said Ryan.

Ryan added that resources such as the College Essay Guy and many others, along with specialized events for the families, have been extremely valuable to her and other families.

“The community as a whole is very helpful with suggesting classes for specific needs, sharing reviews and offering support when needed,” said Ryan.

Myths, Misinformation

One common area of misinformation, according to Kazan, centers on the misperceptions about educational costs.

She said that the average discount of tuition is 52% across the country. Additionally, Kazan said there are about 70 colleges that fill all of the demonstrated needs – the gap between cost and what one can afford.

“I’m not saying that costs are not an issue,” said Kazan. “But again it’s a matter of having all of the information.”

Another concern Kazan has is the focus on a college education being narrowly focused on initial career preparation. She argues that when looking at higher education, we need to adopt a longer view.

“College is about having a job when you’re 40,” she said. “Yes, you will have a job at 22. But college is for the long haul.”

Ultimately, Kazan recommends that students and parents realize that the U.S. has a vast network of over 4,000 colleges and universities. This is relevant because she said that far too often, students and parents will limit their options based on location or residence.

“If we narrow our search on what we’re familiar with, where we’re from or where others are going, then we might be missing out on our best opportunities,” said Kazan.

Proper Advising

Kazan said that accurate information and personalized college advising are more important than ever before.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Kazan. “Once I explain how this works, it makes sense. There are always alternative pathways.”

Kazan is not saying that all students need to go to college or a four-year institution. However, she does want all of her students to realize that they have tremendous options, choices and potential.

“My goal is to guide them to the most appropriate post-secondary pathway – four-year school, community college, technical school, military certificate programs or others,” said Kazan. “I do want them to know their options and plan out before they leave.”

Kazan uses resources such as SCOIR and You Science to support her students’ guidance and college/career journey.

Onward and Upward

Kazan feels that she has just started to crack this nut and that there is a long way to go to reform the system along with all of the misperceptions. She said schools, as well as those that advise students, need to focus on providing the culture where students think and aim high.

“In the end, this is about changing mindsets and preconceived expectations,” said Kazan. “As a system, we have a very long way to go.

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Ron Crutcher on I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, we’re talking with Dr. Ron Crutcher, President and Professor of Music at the University of Richmond and author of the new book I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership.

Dr. Crutcher was founding co-chair of Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) and a former member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His new book highlights his own journey, as well as his principles for leading and being.

Let’s listen in as Tom and Dr. Crutcher discuss the influence of music, strong leadership, the role of university and much more.

Dr. Crutcher is a respected leader and has long been an avid musician. He started singing in a baptist church in Cincinnati, where he grew up, and went on to become a very talented cellist and singer. Through his musical training, Dr. Crutcher  traveled to a college campus once a week, and this frequency of college visit left a lasting impact —  neither of his parents had attended college.

His teacher, Dr. Elizabeth Potteiger, influenced his leadership style through the way that she taught which he described as being “quiet, but exacting; disciplined but broad-minded.” And she stressed learning to perform like an athlete. Through all of this experience, he gained some key experiences as a musician that have shaped who he is as a leader: emphasis on collaboration and honesty and openess about criticism. He also became dedicated to “leading a school that changes lives.”

All of these experiences culminated in his recent book, I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership. In this book he lays out three principles: know yourself, be kind to others, no matter how difficult they are, and to take care of yourself mentally and physically that are beautiful, simple and more important than ever. “I try to interact with colleagues in such a way that they can see the spirit within me.” – Dr. Ron Crutcher

He also outlines three additional lessons:

  • Lesson One: Acknowledging an uncomfortable history can lead to conversations that point the way forward.
  • Lesson Two: Respond to controversial speech with more speech.
  • Lesson Three: Slow down.
    • We must learn how to give people the benefit of the doubt.
    • We must establish cultures of trustworthiness

Later in the episode he goes into the importance of college: “College is one of the best—and perhaps last—opportunities many young people will have to live in community with those who come from worlds different from their own.” He continues to discuss how colleges remain the crucibles of learning how to live in a democratic society and how the very purpose of higher education is to “interrogate truths, support arguments with fact and reason, uncover new knowledge, and create greater understanding.”


Creating Promising Career Pathways for Minority High School Students by Partnering with the Business Community

A critical question for states and local communities is how do we create viable career pathways for students from urban underserved and rural communities? When I began my doctoral journey at Northeastern University, I decided to focus my research on this issue because traveling the back roads of South Carolina. I witnessed public schools that face enormous challenges with diminishing resources, increasing academic expectations, and growing proportions of students living in poverty, trauma, and even homelessness. I was also confronted with the minimally adequate standard for education in South Carolina. Just 2 percent of black students and a fifth of white students met the college-ready benchmark in every subject. I realized that the opportunity gap would only widen for minority students if the system and specifically high schools didn’t get more intentional about real business partnerships that lead to students’ jobs and not just financial support for the school programs!

During the winter of 2019, I visited high schools like the High School for Health Profession in Orangeburg, SC, NEXT High School in Greenville, SC, and Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, SC. I was able to interview, teachers and support staff. I then heard about Olympic High School in Charlotte. So I visited Olympic High School and interviewed Mike Realon, Academy and Community Development Coordinator at the school. Here is what I learned.

Olympic High School began its transformational model in 2006 by becoming collaborators with the community it serves, especially the business community in Charlotte, which is presently trying to fill over 100,000 local jobs (7.6 million nationally) due to the American knowledge and skills gap. Since receiving a $1.2 million grant and becoming part of the Bill and Melinda Gates small schools movement in 2006, Olympic High School has embraced the Gates’ holistic approach “in pursuing its goal of developing more students who are both career AND college ready.”

Olympic High School uses the NAF career academy platform that emphasizes experiential and project-based learning as well as the school being led by local business & college leaders. The NAF Career Academy emphasizes that America’s youth should experience a 9th to 12th grade work-based learning experience which will help the students become both “career AND college” ready. The NAF model is wrapped around project-based and experiential learning with students immersed in a “work-based learning continuum” from 9th to 12th grade as determined by the Board of Directors.

Olympic High School offers 5 career academy options for students to onboard as freshmen:

  • Engineering & Advanced Manufacturing
  • Finance & Business Ownership
  • Health Sciences
  • Hospitality & Tourism
  • Information Technology (IT)

Each of the 5 career academies have a Board of Directors comprised of leaders (employers) from the local industry sector, post-secondary institutions, and government agencies whose missions overlap with the career academy’s primary objective: To provide a meaningful 9-12 grade “career AND college ready” experience designed so 21st century youth can achieve their human and economic potential while simultaneously expanding the local talent pool in vital business sectors.

Today in Charlotte, employers are trying to fill 100,000 jobs in industry sectors essential to the local economy’s prosperity while 10,000 baby boomers are retiring daily until 2025. Olympic High School referenced Charlotte’s 5 year economic plan when determining what career academy themes and pathways should be offered.

Image Credit: Olympic High School

The goal is to help students:

  1. Become aware of local industry/career opportunities
  2. Explore local industry/career opportunities
  3. Purposefully prepare for local industry/career opportunities

The partnerships were created because:

Employers in Charlotte, as well as across America, are desperately in need of talent. Many employers know they can no longer be idle spectators on the sidelines. It’s a supply chain management issue for employers, and their suppliers of talent have failed them. Charlotte ranks last when comparing America’s 50 largest cities in terms of youth realizing upward economic & social mobility. Most of Charlotte’s jobs do not require a 4 year college degree. Half of college-educated millennials remain either unemployed or underemployed today. The Olympic High School Board members evangelize & urge parents and students to “think differently” when connecting Education to success in a modern workplace.

Image Credit: Olympic High School

Over 80% of Olympic students have earned a national career readiness certificate with NAF. The National Career Readiness Certificate is a portable, evidence-based credential that certifies essential skills for workplace success. Employers look for it from job candidates, whether they come directly from high school, work-based learning programs, or through post-secondary paths, because it is a valid predictor of job performance. Olympic High School has successfully partnered with the business community to totally transform educational outcomes (65% increase in EOC test scores and a 25% increase in graduation). While simultaneously providing students experiential and project-based learning opportunities where many students earn tickets into the middle class as high school teens by becoming employed as software developers, tradespersons, mechatronic technicians, and engineering apprentices.

Olympics’ success over the years has led to Olympic and its business partners being featured on national media outlets (CNN, Money, NPR, PBS, CNBC, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, etc.). Olympic High School was also featured in an Amazon #1 best-selling book about transforming education in America, What School Could Be.

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https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/s-788mz1JqcUk52BP2-QgZBQQrQ8__P6m_F7adzTpMjbuTs1cywbWb_gm25OngsTShlV3mFLc0vCQJFMCCBLE5El2PGSAZFBhoSyQqEOLh9oHxdJweXqRa_umRgT-W0SjHdLCTntAntonio B. Boyd is a Doctor of Education Student at Northeastern University, Graduate School of Education in the College of Professional Studies. He is Chief Operating Officer at Future of School, a national nonprofit focused on ensuring all students reach their unbounded potential. Antonio is also the Founder of The Workforce for Our Future Project created to help High School students prepare for the future workforce. Follow him on Twitter at @tonio81.

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New Standards of Quality: Minerva Baccalaureate and Debt Free College

For half a century, the initials AP and IB signified high school quality. The assessment systems are challenging and require a lot of reading and memorizing. Both have made some efforts to stress thinking skills but they remain discipline-based individual pursuits culminating in high stakes tests.

A new standard of quality was introduced today, the Minerva Baccalaureate. It’s a new interdisciplinary high school course of study designed around critical career competencies and pursued in an interactive video Forum.

There are three reasons the Minerva Baccalaureate is the new standard of quality. First, it’s engaging and demanding. In most high schools, most students are disengaged most of the time. In Minerva programs, 90% of learners are engaged over 90% of the time. It’s turbocharged engagement: it’s like TRX training for your brain. It’s as engaging and challenging as debate but less artificial.

Second, it’s work that matters. Projects and discussions are on relevant topics. “They build the skills that are most valuable in life and work–the tools necessary to be an effective change agent which include thinking critically and creatively, and communicating and interacting effectively,” said Minerva founder Ben Nelson. Third, learners receive specific real-time feedback on competencies. This is not about cramming for a multiple choice quizzes, it’s real feedback on real work in real time.

Robin Goldberg, Chief Experience Officer at Minerva, explains “The learning transcends subject matter in a way that will produce a more advanced level of understanding and engagement.”

The Minerva Baccalaureate will initially be offered by Laurel Springs School, a respected private online school. Starting today, they are enrolling a 9th grade cohort (sign up by September 1 to be part of the first cohort). The tuition of $13,000 is half of many private schools.

“We want to reimagine the high school curriculum,” said Nelson. “We want to teach young people how to think and instill quality decision making.”

The Laurel Springs Difference

Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Laurel Springs is a school that people trust and respect. They have small classes, supportive teachers, attentive counseling and a great track record of college placement.

Launching online in 1994, they “were arguably the first online school and have been an innovator all along,” said President Peter Robertson.

As a former AP History teacher and school board member whose district selected the IB program, Robertson notes that both were developed in the last century and that, “There is a lot of opportunity to help students integrate and make more practical use of knowledge.”

Laurel Springs piloted Minerva’s Forum in several classes with great success. “We have seen how Minerva builds skills and how Forum facilitates deep collaborative learning,” said Robertson.

Seniors in the Minerva Baccalaureate program will take the first year of the Minerva collegiate program and graduate from high school with 32 college credit hours.

Minerva Backstory

Two years after selling photo giant Snapfish to HP, I met Ben Nelson in a Latin American dive in San Francisco’s Mission District. He laid out an ambitious plan to create a better-than-the-Ivy university with tuition of $10,000 a year.

In 2011, he founded Minerva Project, a venture-backed startup that partnered with Keck Graduate Institute at Claremont to create Minerva Schools at KGI–what might be the most interesting and important higher education program in the world.

The undergraduate program features a rigorously designed curriculum that develops knowledge and skills in about 100 foundational concepts and habits of success. Learners (pre-pandemic) studied and applied their learning in seven cities.

With the May graduation of the second class of world changers, it’s safe to say that Nelson achieved his goal of creating the best university at a super low cost and featuring need-blind competency-based admissions.

Last April, Minerva offered its Forum platform to other educational institutions. In that announcement, Nelson said, “Our intention has been to enable other institutions to join the revolution.” He points to three Minerva breakthroughs: cross-contextual scaffolding for the habits and concepts, fully active learning, and a personalized platform that supports compelling learning experiences and detailed feedback.

The Forum platform supports real-time, synchronous seminars–which work equally well with a local or distant instructor and with groups up to 400. Class sessions are recorded and tagged so instructors can provide formative feedback to learners based on specific examples of learner performance.

Urban Scholars Program

Earlier this month Minerva announced a new super low-cost program with Paul Quinn College. The Urban Scholars Program is an accelerated interdisciplinary course of study for ambitious students that want to finish college in three years and are willing to work while they study.

“We wanted to offer something better than any university on the planet–better, faster, and cheaper–only $7,500 in out of pocket cost for Pell-eligible students. It’s a full Minerva education with Paul Quinn professionalization,” said Nelson.

Urban Scholars will earn a degree in Business Administration and Public Policy while addressing public health, criminal justice reform, and the wealth gap while developing relationships with national and community leaders.

Students will attend classes year-round (with a two-month winter break) for three years. There are no geographic restraints or residency requirements.

Like the famous Paul Quinn Work Program, Uban Scholars will work 15-20 hours a week after their first year.

“This is an empowerment program for changemakers,” added Nelson. “It’s a way to tilt the playing field in the right direction.”

The combination of the Minerva Baccalaureate and Urban Scholars Program will make available, in six years and at very low cost, what might be the best high school and college programs in the world.

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This blog was originally posted on Forbes. 


COVID Could Worsen Summer Melt: How Some Colleges Are Responding

By: Dennis Pierce

According to the federal Education Department, as many as a third of high school graduates who plan to attend college don’t arrive on campus that fall, a phenomenon known as “summer melt.” This year, amid the uncertainty brought on by the global pandemic, that number could soar—and colleges are taking creative steps to reduce this possibility.

Summer melt tends to hit students from low-income families the hardest, as well as those who are the first in their family to go to college. Sometimes students can’t come up with the money they need to enroll in college, and sometimes they miss important messages from the school they were accepted into or fail to complete the necessary documentation.

The uncertainty created by COVID-19 is likely to keep even larger numbers of students from matriculating this fall. Many students’ financial situations have changed as parents have lost their jobs, while others might balk at the idea of being on campus during a pandemic or taking courses entirely online.

To ensure that as many first-year students as possible enroll in classes, colleges and universities are using campus apps, virtual orientation sessions, and other innovative methods to engage with newly admitted learners.

Campus Apps

For instance, the University of Findlay, a private institution in Ohio with about 4,000 total students, is leveraging its campus app to engage with accepted students more deeply through their mobile devices.

Findlay has built a mobile campus app using Modo, an app-building platform for higher education that doesn’t require any coding. The platform’s maker, Modo Labs, has released what it calls an “Admitted Student Engagement Starter Kit” that’s designed to help institutions meet their enrollment goals with virtual campus tours, remote student orientations, and easy options for asking and answering new students’ questions. The starter kit is accompanied by a how-to “playbook” with advice on how to engage students using a mobile app.

Leveraging a campus app “enables us to send push notifications to students,” says Rebecca Jenkins, Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing for the university. “They’re often hard to reach. We can send them emails, but we don’t always have the most accurate email addresses and they don’t always read and respond to emails, either. Yet, everybody keeps their phone right beside them.”

Using an app to communicate “gives us the ability to customize messages easily for that particular audience,” she adds. “Of course, we get some people who would prefer not to receive push notifications, but it’s far more likely that most people are going to respond more quickly to a push notification than an email.”

Jenkins says the university is still in the planning stages, but she expects the app will be used to run fun contents, share videos, and promote Findlay’s admitted student podcast. Campus leaders can download the university’s app for a firsthand experience of how the school is driving engagement.

“We know that our students love Findlay because they feel at home here,” she says. “Well, we have to figure out how to create that feeling when they can’t come to campus yet. We have admitted students who have never been on campus because of the coronavirus. We’re hoping that our app not only helps us communicate with them, but that it helps them feel like part of a community until they can actually be here and become immersed in our community.”

Online Orientations

Because of the pandemic, many colleges are shifting their orientation programs for new students to an online format. In addition, many institutions are stepping up the number of communications they send to make sure new students feel welcome and complete the enrollment process.

Several programs within the Touro College and University System “are holding online orientations where they stay in contact with students over the summer,” says Elisheva Schlam, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing for the system. “Some are doing this much earlier in the process than they usually do and are holding multiple events, so there are a number of touch points and communications—as well as opportunities for new students to discuss concerns with an advisor.”

At Lyon College in Arkansas, the enrollment services division is hosting virtual Accepted Students Days twice a week for incoming students, says Director of Communications Madeline Roberts Pyle—and the college is offering a virtual tour in which students can meet with an admissions counselor, a current student, and a faculty member online.

“We also just installed 360-degree views of campus on the Visit page of our website,” Pyle says. “We did not offer virtual events before, and we didn’t have a virtual campus tour.”

Creative Thinking

Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts admits about 550 first-year students per year. Of these, some 5 to 8 percent commit to the college but don’t arrive in the fall, says Alicia Erwin, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Involvement.

Erwin, who oversees orientation for incoming students, says that number could be higher this year, but anything is possible.

“It feels like things could shift at any point, so that makes it hard to say what will happen,” she observes. “Health and safety is our number one priority right now, and I know students and their families are thinking about these issues as well and weighing what makes the most sense for their situation.”

The college has traditionally used social media platforms and email communication to engage with incoming students. New students and their families receive anywhere from two to four emails a month, and the college also offers live Zoom sessions to answer students’ questions.

“This summer, we have a few new things that we’ll be doing as well,” Erwin says. “Some of those are in response to COVID-19, and some are things we were already thinking about doing.”

The college just acquired a new online student engagement platform this year, CampusGroups, which gives administrators the chance to “have richer conversations and build deeper connections than we were able to do over social media, which is a public forum,” she explains.

What’s more, “COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to be really creative in our thinking,” she says. “We’ve taken a step back and thought about what questions new students might have and what community-building opportunities are going to feel good for them right now.”

New initiatives that administrators are thinking of trying this summer include pen pal programs, scavenger hunts, and virtual hangouts. “Since mid-March, when we transitioned to remote learning, we’ve learned a lot about fostering deeper engagement with our current students online,” Erwin says. “We’re using what we’ve learned there, along with some creative thinking, to come up with new ways of connecting with incoming students over the summer. Depending on what kind of feedback we receive, I could see us continuing to use these new methods going forward.”

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Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience writing about education and technology. Follow him on Twitter @DennisWPierce

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Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.


Preparing for the Future: Career and College Ready

Over the past couple of months we have had to make many adjustments to our personal and professional lives. During this unprecedented time, educators and families have been trying to find balance in their days, to work together to keep learning going, and perhaps more importantly, to provide the academic, emotional, and mental support that our students need.

For many educators, finding the right resources that can be used to teach and mentor remotely, and which will also engage students in learning activities, can be difficult. The challenge is not so much in finding tools, but rather in knowing whether our students can access them, determining which will benefit them the most, and making sure that we can provide the support that students and families need. At this time of the year in particular, guidance counselors and educators who work with mentoring programs are quite busy as they help seniors prepare to graduate from high school or other students as they transition to a new grade level or school. In many school districts across the United States, students are required to complete a job shadow, explore careers, and develop a digital portfolio that will become part of their application for college or work. Integral to these requirements are school guidance counselors.

After speaking with a guidance counselor from my school and following conversations in different learning communities and on social media, I’ve noticed that guidance counselors are seeking resources that can help them to provide this same support for students during remote learning. Even when we are in school with access to guidance counselors and resources, it can be difficult for students as they prepare to transition to their next grade or the next phase of their educational or work journey after graduation. Trying to plan their next steps, whether entering the workforce or pursuing a college education, has not been easy during this time. Students have questions about jobs, college applications, and skills needed for the future and without being in the same space, providing that information can be a challenge. However, there are many resources available to educators, students, and parents that can help now while we are experiencing school closures and that will be beneficial throughout the year in addition to the programs already in place.

Here are seven options for guidance counselors to support students during their transitions between grades, schools, and education and career. These options provide ways for students to explore careers, find job shadow opportunities, create digital portfolios, and even visit college campuses.

Career Readiness. In Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Intermediate Unit has a website that provides many links related to career awareness and readiness that will be helpful to elementary, middle and high school educators and students everywhere. It also offers resources for secondary transitions for special educators, direct links to the PA Department of Education, opportunities for virtual college and job visits, and many other relevant materials for educators that are helping students to determine their career pathways.

Couragion. Provides work-based learning experiences for students. Some options include career shadowing for students in grades 4 through 8 and micro badging for career exploration for middle and high school students. There are four curricular models to explore including technology, engineering, manufacturing, and business. There is also information provided for doing remote externships during the summer months and students can also build career portfolios.

Ecampus Tours. Educators and students can choose from more than 1,300 tours to explore college campuses in 360-degree virtual tours. The website also offers additional resources for college planning as well as materials for guidance counselors such as documents and other handouts for students and parents to plan for college.

MyPlan. Through the Career Exploration section of their site, there are videos, salary calculators, and other resources that enable students to explore different careers at their own pace. Students can learn about different industries, find out about the top 10 careers, and even ask questions in the community to learn more about specific careers and skills needed.

Nepris. This site offers educators the opportunity to connect students with professionals working in many different careers and industries. Through their Career Explorer program, educators can request a speaker to join in a virtual discussion with students, provide students with an authentic audience as they present project-based learning, or even arrange a panel discussion. There are live virtual chats and more than 9,000 recordings available for students to explore different careers on their own time. The virtual industry chats and video library are available to everyone during this time.

Smart Futures. This Pittsburgh-based company has created SmartFutures.org, an online career planning platform for students, whether kids or young adults. Using Smart Futures, students take surveys and complete activities to learn more about their skills and interests, and are able to explore careers and create their digital portfolio. E-Mentors are also available through Smart Futures.

Xello. This resource provides a variety of options for students to learn more about careers and build future-ready skills as they transition through each level of school. Using Xello, students take an assessment and then can explore hundreds of career and college options that match their results. As they work through the activities, reading biographies and engaging with the resources provided, a portfolio of their work and explorations is created. Xello’s software also assists students with gathering documents needed as they prepare college applications.

Regardless of whether in the physical or virtual space, we need to support students and provide them with opportunities to explore their interests and prepare for the future, whether for careers or college. Using any one of these resources, students have opportunities to build self-awareness of their skills and interests and can engage in different learning experiences that prepare them for the future.

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Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.


Where Can You Make the Biggest Difference?

The world’s great religions promote contributing to the common good (as noted in a recent post). They teach and celebrate reconciliation—making all things new—and promote service inspired by gratitude.

Some who are unsympathetic to ancient wisdom might argue we’re in a post-religious world where civic virtue shouldn’t rely on “nonsense upon stilts” (what Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, called divine rights).

Building on Bentham’s pragmatics, effective altruism came of age in the last decade with a nearly simultaneous rise among analytic philosophers at Oxford and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Popularized by Peter Singer’s The Most Good You Can Do, and Will MacAskill’s Doing Good Better, effective altruism suggests that we should be thinking rigorously, comparatively, and collectively about how can we use our resources to help others the most.

The Centre for Effective Altruism said this new field “uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.”

How to Spend Your 80,000 Hours?

Back in 2011, Will MacAskill and his colleague Benjamin Todd were trying to figure out what to do. They developed a lecture, then a part-time project, then a full-blown organization dedicated to how to best use a career to make a difference. They figured you have about 80,000 working hours in your career (40 years x 50 weeks x 40 hours), so they called the project 80,000 Hours.

They developed a guidance framework for those sharing their utilitarian bent and seeking to make a difference. It suggests working on big problems that are highly neglected but solvable.

When it comes to helping people find careers that more effectively ‘make a difference,’ ‘do good,’ or ‘have a positive impact’ on a large scale, the 80,000 Hours crew is specific but reflective about a set of (abbreviated) postulates:

Impartial concern for welfare. When it comes to making a difference, we aim to be impartial in the sense that we give equal weight to everyone’s interests. We strive to avoid privileging the interests of others based on arbitrary factors such as their race, gender, or nationality, as well as where or even when they live. In addition, we think that the interests of many non-human animals should be given significant weight, although we’re unsure of the exact amount. Because we aim to avoid privileging anyone’s interests based on when they were born, we always consider the impact our actions have on future generations, not just their effects on those alive today.

Effective altruism. It sounds obvious that if you can help two people rather than one, and your cost is the same, it’s better to help the two people. However, when applied to the world today, this obvious-sounding idea leads to surprising conclusions.

This means the top priority in doing good is to get the big picture right, and not to sweat the details. If you can do better on the big decisions, then you can have hundreds of times more impact than what’s typical, which is an amazing feat.

Expected value and counterfactuals. We all make decisions about risk and uncertainty in our daily lives; but when trying to do good, we face even greater uncertainty about the ultimate effects of our actions—especially if we consider all their long-term effects. The best we can do is to consider all of the good and bad things that could result from our actions, and weigh them by the probability that they will actually happen.

Longtermism. If we care about all of our actions’ consequences, then what’s most important about them from an impartial perspective is their potential effects on future generations.

Moral uncertainty and moderation. We think that the most important thing for us to focus on from an impartial perspective is increasing long-term welfare. However, we aren’t sure that this is the only thing that matters morally. It’s also extremely difficult to know all the relevant effects of our actions, and grand projects to advance abstract ethical aims often go badly.

The organization 80,000 Hours aims to help people maximize their positive impact on the greater good in their professional lives. Image courtesy of 80,000 HOURS

What Could You Work On?

Want to make a big difference? The most important factor, according to 80,000 Hours is to pick the right issue—one where additional resources will have the greatest returns because they’re important in the long term, relatively neglected, and solvable.

With this informed view of the opportunity set, you can test personal fit: where do you have the highest chances of excelling? Does it fit with the rest of your life and risk tolerance? Will it let you contribute to a pressing problem right away?

The 65 episodes of the 80,000 Hours Podcast provide long-form advice on how you can use your career to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Many of them will be useful immersions for young people considering opportunities for making a difference.

Calling or Calculation?

Maybe you don’t buy the career calculus effused by effective altruists. Even admirers offer several critiques of effective altruism: it understates the importance of being in and serving a community, it undervalues political action, it disregards the importance of emotions, and it promotes ‘lone wolf’ and ‘savior’ solutions.

Despite these drawbacks, applying pragmatic realism to your career choices and philanthropy have some obvious benefits. Effective altruism asks you to lift your chin, look around, think long term and do your best to improve human welfare.

With all the talk about finding and following your passion, effective altruism suggests that in addition to exploring your strengths and interests, it’s useful to ask the complementary question: where can I make the biggest difference?

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This blog was originally published on Forbes.


Should Skills Training Replace Higher Education?

With $1.5 trillion in college debt weighing down the economic trajectories of young Americans, many high school students and their families are considering career pathways over traditional liberal arts education.

In response to widespread criticism and shrinking enrollments, retired Indiana University professor George Kuh said “privileging short-term job training over demanding educational experiences associated with high levels of intellectual, personal, and social development…is a bad idea for individuals, for the long-term vitality of the American economy, and for our democracy.”

There are obvious and long-term benefits to a liberal arts education (see Fareed Zakaria’s 2015 book In Defense of a Liberal Education), but compounded price hikes (resulting from rising costs and reduced public support) make the risk of debt without a degree the new worst-case scenario for Gen Z.

The new rule for young people is, as Ryan Craig outlines in A New U, go to a good selective school for free if you can, and if you are motivated by the opportunity. If you don’t get a free ride to a good selective university, look for a free (or debt-free) sprint to a good first job.

More New Rules for Today’s Students 

1. Build your resume while in high school. From site visits to job shadowing, internships and client-related projects, and gig work, the best way for students to discover what inspires them (and, alternatively, what is soul-sucking) is to try out different fields. It’s the smart way that high school students are informing their postsecondary choices.

2. Secure college credits before graduating. This is the definitive approach to making college completion both faster and cheaper. Students have access to an expanding variety of (free) college credit options; in addition to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, concurrent enrollment and stackable badges also extend access.

In partnership with community colleges, more than 400 early college high schools across the country enable students to earn an associate’s degree with their high school diploma. Texas has 199 early college high schools and 63 P-TECH high schools that add business partnerships and work experiences.

3. Don’t take on debt without a clear sense of purpose. College for college’s sake no longer offers economically disadvantaged students a ticket into the middle class and ongoing job security. Don’t take on debt without a clear sense of purpose and high likelihood of degree completion.

4. Aim for sustainable, lifelong learning. For the last hundred years, the formula has been 16 to 20 years of education, followed by 40 years of work; the new rule is 60 years (or more) of earn and learn. For those that choose technical training after high school, there is a lifetime to add (free or inexpensive) liberal arts education.

With a good handle on the ladder of opportunity’s first rung, build an earn and learn ladder that incorporates the liberal arts—enabling a richer, more holistic educational experience—and study with purpose and intentionality.

To Dr. Kuh’s question, should skills training replace higher education? The answer is yes; free and debt-free skills training should replace expensive wandering while developing maturity and a sense of purpose and racking up debt—it’s dangerous for individuals and a drag on the economy as a whole.

His question is a dated construct. It’s not a ‘go to work’ or ‘go to college’ question anymore. Instead, it should be ‘what’s the best path to purposeful contribution and a lifetime of learning?’

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This blog was originally published on Forbes.