The Job: College Board on Careers

Testing giant goes big with career planning tools that don’t all lead directly to a bachelor’s degree.

The College Board looks beyond its historic focus on the four-year degree as part of a broad expansion of career-exploration tools for test takers. The push includes sharing data on high-demand jobs and an experiment to connect learners with noncollege job training.

Looking Beyond the Four-Year Degree

The College Board is expanding its suite of career-planning tools. The nonprofit testing giant wants to help students plan for life after high school by providing much more information about paths that don’t lead directly to a bachelor’s degree.

This month, for example, millions of students will see information about in-demand careers in their state when they open PSAT score reports. And the College Board is experimenting with the addition of a noncollege job-training program to its Student Search Service, a voluntary way for students to hear from colleges and scholarship programs.

“We see career success as the destination and education as the pathway to get there,” says Allison Danielsen, executive director of careers and partnerships for BigFuture, the primary hub for the College Board’s offerings around careers.

Danielsen says the flurry of activity on careers is about expanding theorganization’s mission to ensure that its tools are relevant to all students.

“Historically, our resources have focused on information about one key pathway—four-year colleges,” she says. “All students deserve information on multiple pathways—and not all paths to a successful future look the same.”

Testing firms are seeking to adjust their portfolio of services amid the surge of test-optional and test-free college admissions. But Danielsen argues that the College Board is responding to student demand. The group says most students are taking more direct paths to careers, but the majority are unaware of the options. For example, Danielsen cites research showing that:

  • More than half of high school graduates (57%) are starting in two-year degree and training programs, or joining the workforce directly, rather than enrolling in four-year programs.
  • Only 20% of students have heard a lot about options other than pursuing a four-year degree.

“We can help all students select the best pathway by allowing them to navigate through all available options in one place, including exploring a four-year degree,” says Danielsen.

New career-guidance resources on BigFuture include a career quiz and a search tool, which includes information about the median wages, job growth, and typical education level required for 1K career profiles. The College Board tapped government data and proprietary information from Lightcast to try to ensure that its career profiles are up-to-date and relevant.

The newly added career insights test takers are seeing on their score reports include information about six growing careers in a student’s state (see below for an example).

As a next step, the score reports encourage students to connect their test scores with academic skills that are associated with “careers of interest” on BigFuture. The plan is to expand the career insights next year by showing students who take the PSAT 10 and SAT how their academic achievement aligns to typical reading, writing, and math skills for different occupations.

Noncollege Options: The College Board has partnered with Year Up, a well-established sectoral training program. In an experiment underway in Seattle, New York City, and Philadelphia, the student-search tool is showcasing thenonprofit training group.

“Our primary goal is to understand if we can connect students to quality career-training pathways just as we successfully connect students to colleges today,” says Danielsen.

The testing firm says it is partnering with a broad range of organizations that have a stake in the economic opportunity of students, including industries that want to make their growing jobs known to millions of students, and states that want to bring more career- and pathway-planning to K-12 school districts.

Likewise, the College Board has worked with a broad range of experts to develop the tools. For example, it partnered with the Human Resources Research Organization and the National Career Development Association to make sure those offerings are backed by evidence. The organization also is collaborating with Jobs for the Future to identify quality career tracks in high-demand industries, and with Credential Engine to provide good data on credential programs.

Danielsen stresses that the College Board in not souring on the bachelor’s degree, which she says remains an excellent investment for students who can access those programs.

But she says multiple pathways are important for people who face barriers to pursuing a four-year degree after high school—those who need to earn money sooner to support their family, for example, or who lack access to federal financial aid because of their DACA status.

Danielsen also cites the experience of her mother, who earned a four-year degree but later made a career transition with a certification from a community college, and herself—a graduate of a two-year program at Dutchess Community College who later earned a BA while working.

The Kicker: “When it comes to career and college—these options are not, and should not be, binary,” says Danielsen. “Students’ choices should be both-and, not either-or.”

The career-exploration tools from the College Board and BigFuture include more than I could summarize here. For additional details, click over to Work Shift to read a Q&A with Danielsen.


The College Board is taking on careers. We’ve got the details.

A leader of the College Board’s BigFuture platform shares a detailed overview of the scope and purpose of the new career planning tools.


Skills and the War for Talent

The College Board isn’t the only testing firm to make waves with a broader view of skills.

Earlier this year, ETS and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said the time has come to shift away from the credit-hour standard and toward a new currency of education based on meaningful skills and accomplishments.

Amit Sevak, the CEO of ETS, talked about this move last week at the annual meeting of the Competency-Based Education Network. The gathering featured a wide lens on the skills-first push, with speakers hailing from industry, state government, and workforce development, as well as from community colleges and four-year institutions.

“There’s a big opportunity to define the taxonomy of skills,” Sevak said.

While he said change takes time for the “education-industrial complex,” Sevak is bullish that the moment has arrived for the centering of skills and competencies, in part due to shifting public sentiment about higher education and urgency from employers about preparing workers for jobs.

“What is a job?” Sevak asked. “A job is a bundle of skills.”

For the skills-first movement to really take off, said Joshua Laney, director of Alabama’s Office of Apprenticeship, the messaging has to be simple. It’s about “what you know and what you can do,” he said, arguing that the key is “making the whole system comprehensible to the average person.”

Laney shares Sevak’s view that the labor market is helping to drive the focus on skills.

“We have a war for talent,” he says. “The employer is our customer.”

Talk With Us!

Work Shift is reporting on employer demand for short-term credentials in Texas, which is making big investments in those programs. We want to talk directly with employers. The questions are fairly straightforward:

  • Are employers hiring people with only certificates, industry certifications, or other short-term credentials?
  • Why, or why not?
  • And for what kinds of roles?

Yet, in a recurring problem on this beat, we’re having a hard time finding employers who are willing to open up. Please reach out if you know a company or other employer in Texas who would be willing to be interviewed. Businesses don’t have to be headquartered in the state as long as they have some substantial presence there.

As we report on the $4B—and counting—that states have invested in short-term credentials designed to get people into better jobs, it’s essential that we talk directly to employers themselves.

Letter to the Editor: Last week’s newsletter highlighted a Work Shift article on how Texas is using its longitudinal data system to offer a one-stop shop for career navigation. The state is one of many that have invested in those systems because of the absence of a federal student unit record.

A reader wrote to point out that the National Student Clearinghouse manages data that essentially functions as a nationwide student unit record. States use information from the group to help populate their data systems, including for insight from private colleges and out-of-state institutions.

Open Tabs

College in High School
Dual enrollment can boost college-going among students who might not otherwise enroll and help prepare them for the academic rigors of college, finds the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. In two new reports, CCRC lays out a new approach to dual enrollment that builds on guided pathways to support students and connect them with structured paths at the college so their credits apply to a degree.

Free Training
Verizon has partnered with edX to create a new online education portal to “help upskill and reskill Americans for today’s fastest-growing jobs.” Thecompany will cover a year of costs for participants to take any of 250 self-paced, online courses from edX’s partner network through Verizon Skill Forward. Learners will get access to career tools from edX. The program builds on thecompany’s goal of preparing 500K people for jobs by 2030.

P3 in Georgia
A workforce development plan for Thomasville, Georgia, is an example of local public-private workforce partnerships that are springing up throughout thestate, Patty Rasmussen reports for Georgia Trend. A federal grant helped theThomasville coalition to examine data and develop strategies to remove key barriers for people, like access to childcare and transportation, and to focus on residents with some college but no credential.

Certs and Apprenticeships
More than half of students in North America (58%) have considered pursuing a college certificate, a larger share than their peers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (51%) or Asia and the Pacific (53%), according to a survey conducted by Instructure and Hanover Research. Students from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are significantly more likely to have considered apprenticeships (54%) than their peers in other regions (35%).

Women’s Earnings
This year’s Nobel laureate in economic sciences is Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University. Goldin provided the first comprehensive account of women’s earnings and labor market participation through the centuries, the Nobel committee said: “The fact that women’s choices have often been, and remain, limited by marriage and responsibility for thehome and family is at the heart of her analyses and explanatory models.”

Startup to Watch
Escalate is a tech platform that seeks to reduce turnover among frontline workers through targeted upskilling and customized support. The company thisweek announced $1.26M in seed funding. In an interview last year, its co-founders told me that nonprofit training programs too often are seen as charities by corporate partners.

While this newsletter is free, it takes time and money to produce high-quality, agenda-free reporting. If you want to read more sophisticated content on this beat, please consider supporting Work Shift. I’d like to share the fun. —PF

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