Originally published in the Kenosha News
By Vickie Leflore, Youth Development Extension Educator
Many schools and communities are transforming to provide early college and career exploration to a younger generation of students.
Engaging students in activities that connect them to a variety of careers is happening as early as elementary and middle school.
This idea aspires to prepare students for college and/or career success. Early exposure can assist in motivating students beyond high school and create a college and career-oriented culture among younger students.
Younger students may not have a fully-formed understanding of the idea of college and careers; however, early college and career exposure provides youth with awareness of post-high school options. According to the Middle School Journal (2013), “It is essential to keep students engaged in activities that connect academics to career and college preparation throughout the middle grades” of their academic journey.
This type of exposure allows students to gain an understanding of options that may be available to them once they graduate from high school.
Future workforce requirements will be far beyond workers accruing content knowledge within their respective field and occupations. As the Middle School Journal (2013) emphasizes, “in addition to having knowledge of their fields, future workers will need to be more flexible, be committed to ongoing learning and development, be able to problem solve, be good communicators, be able to quickly analyze data, and possess collaborative decision-making skills.”
Learning is cumulative, and waiting until high school to explore careers and college learning opportunities can put students at a disadvantage or is often too late because students are given less time to explore different career areas.
For students who will be the first in their families to attend college, thinking about college early on can prove to be valuable in the manifestation of actually attending. Participation in career exploration assessments and college tours provides young students the exposure to see that college is obtainable and that a plethora of careers exists.
College and career exposure is important for all students. Students need to have a basic understanding of the general requirements for colleges and different career opportunities. When students have access to vital information, they are more equipped to develop and set expectations for their aspirations.
Early college and career exposure is not about pushing every student into the college pipeline; it is more about providing students with the necessary information to make informed choices about life after high school graduation. Facilitating and tapping into the enthusiasm of younger students may increase their willingness to want to dig deeper into what the workforce has to offer them and how they can position themselves to compete in an evolving global workforce.
To find out more about youth programs through UW-Extension and various opportunities, browse our website at https://kenosha.uwex.edu/youth-development/.