Building Regional Intermediary Capacity Towards Equity, Access, and Excellence in Tennessee’s Grades 7-14/16 College and Career Pathways
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CitationMartin, Mark Walter Charles. 2017. Building Regional Intermediary Capacity Towards Equity, Access, and Excellence in Tennessee’s Grades 7-14/16 College and Career Pathways. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractCareer pathways help direct students’ futures direction and provide relevant, engaging learning experiences that are designed to lead them to and through a postsecondary degree or credential and ultimately on to successful occupations with family-sustaining wages, upward career trajectories, and economic mobility. Although one essential lever to successful career pathways is strong and supportive state level policy and leadership, career pathways development and implementation must ultimately take place within regional ecosystems that encompass economic labor sheds, including postsecondary institutions and employers. Cross-sector regional partnerships among educational institutions (secondary and postsecondary), employers, and workforce development are critical to developing the programming, curriculum, and career-readiness opportunities students need to step boldly into their futures. The success of such partnerships hinges on the capacity of cross-sector stakeholder collaborations, or regional intermediaries, to effectively convene, organize, and execute the work.
Though Pathways Tennessee has been working across the state to expand career pathways in Tennessee since 2012, as of the end of the 2016 school year, fewer than one percent of students statewide had completed high-quality school-to-career pathways. Likewise, fewer than seven percent of students were graduating with early postsecondary credits, a strong predictor of postsecondary degree attainment. As state-level agencies partner to lead and support the work of Pathways Tennessee, regional intermediary capacity must expand to execute the work. My strategic project focused on building the capacity of regional leads, intermediaries, and stakeholders to effectively design, pilot, implement, and continuously improve career pathways.
Two themes resonated throughout the project, equity and sustained commitment. Absent a steady focus on these two aspects of career pathways design and execution, programming inevitably fails to serve all students or reach its full potential. In Tennessee, data analysis revealed substantial racial gaps in access and completion of high-quality pathways programs. Additionally, as Pathways Tennessee and its regional intermediary partners experienced shifts in personnel, policies, and politics, it became clear that the necessary work to improve pathways statewide would be negatively impacted without sustained commitment from all pathways stakeholders.
Ultimately, I was only able to complete a portion of the capacity-building work I had hoped to achieve through my strategic project. This was due, in part, to the responsible and strategic decision for Pathways Tennessee to temporarily pull back from directly supporting regions to instead formulate a coherent long-term vision and plan for improving and expanding career pathways statewide.
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