Cartier: Preparing students for the future, regardless of what that future looks like (column) | VailDaily.com

Cartier: Preparing students for the future, regardless of what that future looks like (column)

Jacqueline Cartier
My View

With graduation around the corner, there are still those uncertain of what's next. While college may not be the best choice for everyone, three things it does provide, regardless of career interest, is time to further mature, which occurs at different rates over several years; an opportunity to study with a diverse student body, offering an expanded view of the world; and an ability to equalize their basic academic competencies through college general-education requirements.

General educations solidify knowledge in the basics of "reading, writing and arithmetic" and provide greater depth for courses in science and technology, but they also reintroduce students to programs that many schools have eliminated due to budgetary constraints, such as the arts (music, theater, visual arts) and hands-on skills like auto or woodshop or fun classes that build functional living skills like home economics (how many kids are lost on how to do laundry, make a meal or balance a checkbook?). These classes expose young people to a range of skills that give additional meaning to the basics of reading, writing and math.

Confusion ensues when students go into tremendous debt and, upon graduation, are unable to secure a job and rarely in the profession of their choosing. Employers are frustrated because they have academically "qualified" applicants who cannot do the job. They have knowledge but no work skills.

There has been a division between college's "intellectual" pursuits and trade school's "manual labor" fields, which is totally unfair. These skilled students are often gifted in the complex field of mechanics and graduate job-ready.

Because many families cannot afford the $40,000 to $60,000 per year for a degree, they are seeking respected alternatives. Places like Colorado Mountain College are working to provide a combination of skills and degree options, which can be taken individually or in combination to create a truly unique career path. The opportunity to have these programs available locally is a huge benefit.

The post-high school trend is to increase knowledge, while teaching marketable skills that enable practical uses for a student's degree or certification. Another Colorado example is Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, which offers one of the largest lists of academic options in the state, including a unique program on Wind Energy Technology, where students learn while working with partner companies such as Xcel Energy, NextEra Energy, General Electric, Infigen Energy, Alliance Power, Invenergy, EDF-RE, Wanzek Construction, Blattner Energy and Vestas.

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Students emerge with academic knowledge and practical skills that place them in high demand across the country. Northeastern Junior College even offers programs in zoology, forestry and equine management.

While most college deadlines have passed, many offer rolling admissions for late applicants and some have open enrollment. There are intern/apprenticeships that offer funding options with organizations that help students make dreams a reality.

We also have school districts that have implemented programs that help to transition students from high school to the workforce, with or without a college option.

Eagle County Schools have developed an early-college option that provides the first two years of college, tuition-free, to students meeting certain criteria. Roaring Fork School District has a similar option for DACA students who don't qualify for federal grants.

Eagle County Schools has just opened an auto-repair center for interested students, helping them earn valued certifications. Roaring Fork has created the peer scholar program at its alternative high school, Bridges, which enables students who meet minimal graduation requirements but who, for various reasons including trauma, are unprepared for a job or higher education. They attend classes at both Bridges and CMC, volunteer as teacher aides, dedicate community service hours, work a part-time job and, upon graduation, are prepared to enter college or the workforce. That 13th year cost is minimal in contrast to the alternative.

This need for skills training even extends to the adult population, as certain jobs are transitioned out and new technology is brought in. When laid off mid-career, where do they go? The Markle Foundation, in partnership with Microsoft, LinkedIn, private corporations and Colorado, has developed the Skillful Initiative to bridge that gap. According to the website: "Skillful is integrating businesses, state government, nonprofits and educators, to forge a new way of creating and accessing opportunity."

The way forward is changing, and options for students and adults have never been greater.

Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at winningimages.cartier@gmail.com.