Below is a guest blog by Dr. Eric Wearne of Georgia Gwinnett College and formerly with the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Dr. Wearne currently leads GCO’s College & Career Pathways working group.

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Over the past several months, the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s College and Career Readiness working group has focused on big-picture concepts relating to “college readiness”. Presentations by administrators from Georgia Gwinnett College, as well as from the Foundation for Educational Success, which creates and administers programs on non-cognitive variables, have helped shape our discussion so far.

Most recently, the working group turned its focus towards “career readiness” issues. Early on in the group’s work, panelists supported the ideas coming from Mike Rowe’s foundation, and his theory that American education has not been serving great numbers of American students:

“A trillion dollars in student loans. Record high unemployment. Three million good jobs that no one seems to want. The goal of Profoundly Disconnected is to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degrees the only path to success.”

To continue its research in this area, this month the panelists heard from both state-level and national experts on various needs and approaches specific to Georgia.

Matthew Gambill, Executive Director of the Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education, spoke to the group and answered questions.  The idea of considering CTAE courses as academic credits; the need for more (and more well-supported) career academies across the state; and the idea of trying new advisement approaches to strengthen school counselors’ relationships with individual  students were all topics of conversation.

The group also heard from Bob Lerman of the Urban Institute and American University.  Dr. Lerman has spoken on MSNBC about the need for apprenticeship programs in the U.S., and is a founder of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship.

Dr. Lerman talked about the relative strength of apprenticeships in Georgia compared to other states, noting the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program.  He also argues that the Common Core State Standards, because of their one-size-fits-all approach, especially in high school, set up the possibility, or even the probability, of crowding out career-based programs with their focus on college readiness.  Ultimately, while Georgia is actually doing some work to promote education and training for careers, Dr. Lerman felt that some opportunities exist in the state for improvements, including getting local businesses more involved in the process of partnering with schools and setting up apprenticeships; keeping the standards for entry into apprenticeship programs high (as a point of comparison, Teach for America, which is rapidly growing and has a good reputation among academically strong students, has a very high bar for entry); and making sure students are getting good counseling, especially in 9th and 10th grades.

Both speakers independently echoed some of the ideas the working group has been hearing in the context of college readiness – that individual relationships with students matter; that students are seeking more and more specific choices and options in their educational careers; and that big, sweeping programs intended to solve every problem for everyone of Georgia’s nearly 2 million students might just be too big.