- In Pendleton, Oregon, educators are encouraging students to think about college and other opportunities as early as elementary school, helping them glimpse what curriculum looks like after high school and imagine postsecondary options open to them beyond four-year degrees, including associate’s degrees and trade certifications.
- Martha Parham, a former educator and current senior vice president for public relations with the American Association of Community Colleges, said it’s never too soon to introduce students to alternative paths, including community colleges. Districts can start by partnering with higher education institutions and others on events such as science or book fairs.
- “Anything a college can do to familiarize students with their campus can demystify what happens there,” said Parham, who oversees AACC’s 21st Century Center. “Then kids have a positive experience and grow affinity toward a community college.”
Educators can help students expand how they think about their future by just allowing them to visit schools in their community. Young students can go on field trips to colleges, or districts can build partnerships with outside programs that provide a path for students when they leave high school.
An example includes the landscaping and masonry trade program at Woodlawn Conservancy in the Bronx, New York, which starts young people on paths that don’t require a college degree.
Some colleges will bring classes right into high schools, allowing students to get an idea of available college courses before they graduate. Parham, for instance, taught in a dual enrollment program with a community college district in California, traveling to a local high school and teaching evening courses. Students also gained community college credit while completing their high school requirements.
“It was designed to get them ahead of the game before they even finished high school,” Parham said.
Parham knows college counselors often steer students toward four-year degrees and understands that educators want to help students reach for the most opportunities available to them. But she believes elevating other pathways, including a two-year associate’s degree, helps students see these options not as fallbacks but as viable paths that can be as rewarding as any other.
“It’s not just about the degree all the time,” Parham said. “There are many different pathways that may or may not lead to a four-year degree.”