Communities have been reimagining the high school experience for years. The rise of career academy or pathway approaches is driven by talent shortages, demographic shifts, student loan debt and technical advances. All of these are real issues that impact our workforce and local economies, but they aren’t the most pressing needs for students.
Students are incredible, capable and critical community members; they deserve access to an education reflective of this understanding. We need disruption of current systems to ensure that each one of them realizes their full potential – beyond alignment of what has been always done, particularly for students of color. Career pathway programs, which offer rigorous and relevant career experiences and allow students to create an individualized path, are critical to address the economic challenges facing our communities in a way that fosters wealth creation and a focus on the future. Strong pathway programs also build the skills students need to serve as leaders within our community.
At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we are directly supporting 16 school districts throughout the state of Minnesota who are committed to building pathways to the middle class with our Career Academies program. These districts are narrowing the gap in access to early college credits for students of color and building pathways toward opportunities to reach $25/hour jobs with zero college debt. Our vision for students is that they enter the workforce equipped to focus their energy on experiences that build themselves, their family and their community.
Acooa Ellis is senior vice president, community impact, Greater Twin Cities United Way, and Sareen Keenan is program officer, career academies, Greater Twin Cities United Way.