As employers, Colorado Succeeds members know the value of high-quality, work-based learning experiences for students. Research backs this up as well; nationally, 93 percent of students who participate in career-focused programs graduate high school, compared to a national average graduation rate of 83 percent and 77 percent in Colorado.

Work-based learning pilot program results

St. Vrain students work with robots at the Innovation Center.

In an effort to support greater access to work-based learning experiences statewide, Colorado Succeeds championed House Bill-1289 in 2016. The bill, also known as the Career Success Program, created a two-year pilot that would provide Colorado schools with up to $1,000 in bonus funding for each student that either:

  • Earns an industry-recognized credential tied to an in-demand job,
  • Finishes a qualified internship or apprenticeship program tied to industry needs, or
  • Completes and passes an AP computer science course

Results from the first year of the pilot program, which ran through the 2016-2017 school year, were recently released by the Colorado Department of Education. The findings are clear:

  1. There is a strong demand for work-based learning in our schools
  2. The current $1 million annual appropriation for the program does not sufficiently support school and districts in their efforts to prepare students for Colorado’s workforce
  3. There is disproportionate usage of the program, with the majority of bonus funding distributed to Front Range districts and a majority of credentials earned by males.

In just three years, 74 percent of Colorado jobs will require some post-secondary education or training. Yet currently, less than a quarter of Colorado’s students receive that level of training. Further, middle-skill jobs make up the largest part of Colorado’s labor market and half of all science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. These careers require credentials beyond a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

The Career Success Program is what Colorado needs to meet this labor market demand and prepare Colorado students for success after high school. Further, by expanding the program and raising awareness, we can increase the number and geographic diversity of participating schools and students. Equity in access is critical to creating thriving communities and families statewide.

Demand for Credentials Outpaces Supply of Incentive Funding

Schools and students have shown that they are craving these relevant and real-world learning experiences. (Watch these videos to see how Salida School District and St. Vrain Valley Schools are leveraging the program.) In addition to needing to reauthorize the program, there is clearly a demand for an increase in the amount of available bonus funding.

  • 3,106 total qualified credentials and courses were reported. Of these,
  • 1,807 certificates were funded at $553.40 each, and
  • 1,299 credentials or courses received zero bonus funding due to lack of available funds.

This gap in funding stems from a tiered order for bonus funding distribution. Tier 1 is comprised of industry certification programs and Tiers 2 and 3 comprised of internships, apprenticeships, and AP course completion. Rewards are given to school districts for Tier 1 program completion first. If money remains in the $1 million annual appropriation after fully funding Tier 1 credentials, funds are then distributed to school districts which meet Tier 2 and 3 programs.

Internships, apprenticeships, and AP Computer Science are all valuable opportunities for students. By increasing incentive funding, Colorado can support schools in providing more programming to more students.

Supporting All Colorado Students in Earning Credentials

In its inaugural year, 27 out of Colorado’s 178 school districts participated in the program. While participation represents schools throughout the state, the highest number of credentials were earned by students in districts clustered around the Front Range.

  • Cherry Creek 5 School District – 466 earned certificates,
  • Jefferson R-1 School District – 180 earned certificates,
  • Adams 12 School District – 178 earned certificates,
  • Colorado Springs D11 School District – 157 earned certificates, and
  • Vrain RE 1J School District 141 earned certificates.

A closer look at the data from 2016-17 reveals that the distribution of credentials earned generally resembles student demographics in Colorado. However, this is not true when looking at male and female participation, with males earning 69 percent of reported credentials.

With the second year of the program currently underway, we must further promote this opportunity to boost participation in other parts of the state, specifically in rural and mountain communities. We must also do more to support schools in encouraging more girls to participate in work-based learning programs. National statistics show that students participating in these career-focused programs are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher GPAs, and take an accelerated course like Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or dual enrollment.

These opportunities are critical in leveling the playing field among students and increasing diversity in Colorado’s talent pipeline; Female students who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in it in college. Black and Hispanic students who try AP Computer Science in high school are seven times more likely to major in it in college.

Expanding Credentialing Opportunities in Colorado

The results from year one of the pilot program are just the beginning for Colorado. Similar policies in other states have shown to increase access to work-based learning programs for all students, particularly underserved groups including rural students, minorities, and students living in poverty. After Florida adopted a similar incentive program, the number of students earning industry certifications rose from 803 to 45,277 in just five years. AP Computer Science participation also skyrocketed, with participation up 398 percent and passage rates up 346 percent in just five years.

The General Assembly has the opportunity this legislative session to reauthorize the program and boost the level of funding so all 178 school districts can benefit. We hope you will join us in urging them to do so.

By Jamie Trafficanda
Manager of Communications, Colorado Succeeds