College and Career
Whether they’re headed for college or a career,
students need a solid foundation of academic knowledge
combined with crucial thinking and learning skills.
David T. Conley and Charis McGaughy
The importance of all students being college and career ready is one of the most discussed issues in policy circles and secondary schools these days. But are college readiness and career readiness one and the same? The answer has far-reaching implications for how U.S. secondary schools are organized and
how they educate students.
But First, A Look Back
Through most of the 20th century, college readiness and
career readiness were more or less distinct, in part because
what we now call career readiness was called job training
and took the form of vocational education. In fact, from the
1920s on, large school districts had separate high schools for
vocationally oriented students and those going on to college
(Tyack, 1974). Even in the high schools themselves, vocational students were mostly separated from college-bound
students. This model, with its assumptions about the separation of career and college preparation, remained strongly
rooted in high schools throughout the 20th century.
© SUSIE FITZHUGH
The economy, however, was not so static. Entirely new
categories of occupations rapidly emerged with the shift from
agricultural and industrial jobs to service jobs. Knowledge
workers and the creative class became increasingly prevalent
(Florida, 2002). The skills to be successful in this new
economy were fundamentally different from those that the
old economy required (Carnevale, 1991, 1992). Increasingly
important were foundational academic knowledge and skills;
communication capabilities; technology proficiency; problem-solving strategies; and flexibility, initiative, and adaptability.
This dramatically shifting set of expectations signaled the
obsolescence of the distinction between college and vocation
as the fundamental organizer for secondary education.