TFS Founder’s Perspective: We Should Be Making Students Career Ready, Period.

“College and Career Ready.” It’s a great promise. It inspires confidence. It makes me want to get behind the organizations that are delivering this for students. But are we really living up to what it means?

According to the College & Career Readiness & Success Center, “College and career ready means that students graduate from high school prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary opportunities—whether college or career—without need for remediation.” I would just expand this definition to indicate that “college” should encompass all postsecondary training, not just the university.

This is what we need to deliver for students, families, communities, and the country as a whole. But unfortunately, no one seems to reads the word “and” in between the words “college” and “career.” We read it like it’s the pathway: college, career, ready!

This is because many Americans have an underlying assumption that the worthwhile careers are available only with a degree. Alongside this belief is the corollary idea that choosing any other educational and career path means you’re settling for something lesser. Both notions are demonstrably outdated, even outright wrong in today’s new economy. We should be making students career ready, period.

College is Not the Problem

College is a great choice for those whose career aspirations require it. I’m a huge fan of college; I attended a university myself and it was a great investment. But my experience is not the standard. Each student has unique interests, talents, and abilities—and not all of them will be best developed for a rewarding career in a college setting. College itself is not the problem, but college for its own sake, divorced from the student’s career plans and life goals, can be.

Unfortunately, America rates schools largely based on their college placement rates. You’re a good high school if you send as many of your graduates as possible off to college—regardless of how they are going to perform there, how they are going to pay for it, and whether or not a college pathway is the right choice for that individual. And it’s doing many young people a disservice.

We must acknowledge the value of all viable postsecondary training pathways, rather than exalting one at the expense of all the others. It’s terrible hearing stories of young people whose college experiences have been stressful, expensive, and ultimately unproductive for the life and career they want to enjoy. These students would be much better served if someone had told them that college is just one of many valuable opportunities out there. Also, we shouldn’t forget that many will find unconventional ways to get where they want to go, often starting with a non-degree program and eventually completing a four-year degree or beyond.

Career Ready is What Matters

I believe that “Career Ready” is the driving idea behind the “College and Career Ready” phrase. Whether students are headed for college or alternate postsecondary training opportunities like industry credentials, certifications, licensures, and apprenticeships, they need to be ready:

  • Ready to pursue a definite course of study that will further their career plan.
  • Ready to succeed academically.
  • Ready to take responsibility for the cost and financial implications of their postsecondary education.
  • Ready to make the most of their education, graduate, and use that training in a real-world, productive career.

Whatever their goals, career readiness is what our young people actually need, whether they attain it via college or another equally worthwhile pathway. They will be equipped to succeed in a changing workforce and economy when they’re given the knowledge, tools, and confidence to determine their own future. And that’s when they will truly be ready—ready for life after high school, ready for success in their postsecondary pathway, and ready for a strong future.

About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is a best-selling author and the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client's passion for making a difference.
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