Bridging the Gaps: College Pathways to Career Success
reviewed by Sharon A Aiken-Wisniewski - July 16, 2018
Title: Bridging the Gaps: College Pathways to Career Success
Author(s): James E. Rosenbaum, Caitlin E. Ahearn, Janet E. Rosenbaum, Janet Rosenbaum, Adam Gamoran
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation, New York
ISBN: 0871547430, Pages: 176, Year: 2017
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The United States has embarked on a new educational goal in recent decades. The policy of college for all (hereafter CFA), which expands educational opportunity and encourages all youth to attend college, has dramatically changed the higher education landscape, with consequences that have reverberated across American society (p. 1).
Rosenbaum, Ahearn, and Rosenbaum open Bridging the Gaps: College Pathways to Career Success with this sentence, which alerts the reader to a policy initiative that has the potential to change society but requires rethinking key elements of higher education. Overall, the authors are supportive of the college for all initiative, but suggest that while access to higher education has increased, similar gains have not been seen in degree completion. Through a series of interconnected studies that use quantitative and qualitative data, the authors suggest that community colleges offer a location to restructure the college experience in order to increase success in terms of completion and transitioning to employment. The analysis and findings offer a thoughtful perspective on strategies to increase completion of credentials by fostering initial success at the community college.
The book introduces key concepts around college enrollment, graduation, and career placement and offers strategies for change. The authors question the current educational system and the concept of BA blinders, suggesting that current society is too heavily focused on bachelors degrees. Bachelors degree attainment is problematic as a solution due to developmental education, stagnant completion rates, and specific requirements of the current labor market. The authors encourage increased enrollment at the community college level because this educational option has the capacity to offer a path to attaining multiple credentials that map to specific jobs and career fields. In addition to identifying current challenges that students face in achieving success in higher education, the authors share institutional examples of innovations that lift barriers and nurture success.
Throughout this volume, the authors expand upon their previous scholarly contributions that connect college access and completion to the labor market. Even though this book presents multiple innovations for achieving college completion for all, I would identify three key strengths. First, the relationship between educational credentials and the labor market is clearly explained. The authors identify a continuum of positions within a career field, then map a variety of credentials onto that continuum. Further explanation of this continuum increases the readers understanding of the skills and abilities needed to accomplish specific jobs. The authors encourage community colleges to use degree ladders to produce student success through credential completion. By connecting degree ladders and career ladders in a mapping process, the student/employee understands the connection between education and career, how to advance in a career, and students are motivated to not only complete one credential but continue on to another. While the authors talk briefly about pathway programs and apprenticeship opportunities, expanding information on these strategies would enhance the book by connecting these to the degree ladder concept.
Second, the authors challenge current policy and practice on placement testing and developmental education in mathematics and English. They begin by identifying challenges in communicating the importance of testing, which results in poor scores and placement into courses that do not count towards degree completion. Next, they challenge why placement tests are required of students pursuing credentials that do not require skills in math and English at the college level. Moreover, they suggest that this is an unnecessary obstacle to success. Finally, they suggest alternatives to developmental education that range from total elimination of placement testing in community colleges to offering placement tests in high school, to embedding necessary skills in required courses that relate to a given career field. Through data analysis, the authors establish that placement testing has a negative impact on retention and persistence for students, and results in reduced credential completion.
The third strength of this book is the acknowledgement of the importance of human capital in supporting student success. The authors discuss the role of faculty, academic advisors, and counselors in empowering students as they explore educational options, identify stackable credentials, and connect the credentials to a range of employment options. For example, the authors boldly suggest students have mandatory meetings with academic advisors to increase understanding of curricular and co-curricular options that attend holistically to student development. I applaud the authors for addressing the key relationship between human resources and student retention and completion, and suggest that readers supplement the suggestions in this book with further reading from higher education scholars such as George Kuh, as well as literature from professional organizations focused on academic advising.
The authors have offered the proverbial food for thought to address a major issue in society, which is commendable. But I would suggest that there are two areas in the book that are addressed at only a surface level and detract from the complexity of the issue of universal college. First, the authors are generalizing students into very broad categories throughout the book. Providing a nuanced descriptions of student populations could be useful when discussing student completion, placement exams, engagement with faculty and advisors, and career relevance. Second, I think further engagement with the extensive literature explaining the retention and persistence of college students would enhance the readers understanding of certain solutions.
This book challenges the reader to think differently about the definition of success in post-secondary education in the 21st century. With an emphasis on the role of the community college in offering multiple types of experiences leading to stackable credentials, the authors encourage a deeper understanding of employment opportunities, especially at the mid-level of a career path. Due to the content that identifies barriers and opportunities for completion in higher education, this book would be of interest to faculty and administrators focused on student success and higher education reform, state system administrators, educational consultants, and state legislators interested in the connection between education and employment options. I also recommend this book to those who are invested in optimizing the student experience through the identification of obstacles that trigger defeat as well as strategies for creating a college culture that values student persistence and encourages our society to embrace lifelong learning.