Last in a two-part series.

Imagine wearing flip flops in a snowstorm. Travelers who know where they are going — whether the beach or the Arctic tundra — generally attempt to pack accordingly. But travelers who don’t know their destination may find themselves woefully unprepared.

Meet today’s student population.

For many students across Michigan, the absence of a compass for college, or knowing why they were going before they arrived, has resulted in high debt and few in-demand skills. Basically, many Michiganders are winding up with frozen feet since they are ill prepared for their destination.

Twenty years ago, schools had experts focused solely on working with students to craft career goals. Discussion often was intertwined with how college and postsecondary education could help attain these goals. These guides understood the labor market and worked with students to apply their skills and interests to careers with this knowledge in mind.

Today, this responsibility has been pushed to the counseling staff in local school buildings, but counselors are overwhelmed with new responsibilities. When school district success is measured by test scores and the number of students who go to college, career exploration and awareness fall to the wayside. The lack of focus on college and career readiness generates a great mismatch between student interests and Michigan’s available careers, creating a skills gap and a talent shortage.

Unfortunately, the education system in Michigan has shifted away from providing funding that supports career exploration and planning in schools. Twenty-three of the state’s 56 intermediate school districts have no tax millage to support career training programs.

In a system where local control necessitates millages and per-pupil charges for revenue to support these important programs, this is a big problem. This system creates inequities that tend to perpetuate themselves: Counties that have been successful in passing a millage, compared to those that have not, are where the best career training programs exist and where dollars flow to fund them.

Gov. Rick Snyder, in his 2016 State of the State Address, shared his views on these issues. “The best careers in the modern economy require training with accessed programs that give [individuals] the skills and knowledge to prepare them for college, career and for life … I have made a commitment to make sure we’re the nation’s leader in career and technical education.”

There is much work to do to achieve that standard. Michigan allocates approximately $26 million in state funds to local districts to support the cost of career and technical education teachers. Ohio spends $290 million in state funds, and Georgia spends nearly $190 million. In both Ohio and Georgia, state funds are the primary source for high school technical education programs, distributed on a per-pupil basis.

While career and technical education funding is not the only way to support career development efforts in schools, the amount of funding a state spends on these programs is a great indicator of the priority they place on growing the talent pipeline in that state. Snyder attempted to pass a bill for some additional dollars to focus on this important problem, but the House did not support this effort.

Many opportunities exist to support career development in this state. In an effort to better understand the career readiness situation and develop solutions, Workforce Intelligence Network embarked on a series of Career and College Readiness and Awareness Policy town hall meetings. These meetings engaged more than 300 subject matter experts from K-12, workforce development and postsecondary education.

The top priorities emerging from these conversations were centered around increasing the tools and resources provided to the educational system to support strong college and career development processes, including crowdsourcing career development with support from the business community.

Michigan has committed to taking a hard look at the career and technical education system to assess its current operation and identify gaps and areas to improve. Hopefully this activity and the policies and standards that follow will begin to shift the focus back toward helping students understand what they want to do before they rush off to college — only to find they brought their snow boots to the beach.

The first part of this series, “What good is college without a career compass?” is available here

This blog was developed with data and research compiled by Sarah Sebaly, senior program manager at WIN.

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