Profile of the target populations for school-to-work transition initiatives
Editor's Note: The following synopsis is based on materials extracted directly from the document. School-to-work transition has become one of the hottest topics in education reform. Motivated by concerns that students are leaving high school inadequately prepared to succeed in today's workplace and international competition is threatening to undermine U.S. economic security, many states and local agencies have been developing policy initiatives to promote the integration of academic and vocational curricula and expand career-related programs, such as cooperative education, youth apprenticeship, tech-prep, and career academies. The recently proposed School-to- Work Opportunities Act of 1993, which would establish a national framework for developing school-to-work opportunity systems in all states, has added momentum to these efforts. Students who go immediately from school to work without any postsecondary education were the original target for career-related education. However, as increasing numbers of educators and policymakers have realized work-based learning and greater integration of academic and vocational education would benefit all students, the target population has been broadened. The proposed School-to-Work Opportunities Act requires states that seek federal funding to provide opportunities for all students, including disadvantaged students; students of diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds; students with disabilities; students with limited English proficiency; and academically talented students. Despite the need to serve all students, these programs serve different purposes for different types of students, and no one program will meet the needs of all students. For example, students bound for 4-year colleges need an overall understanding of the world of work and the academic background required for various occupations. Although these students would profit from an opportunity to work in a field related to their interests to help them choose a career, most students would not have to learn specific job skills in high school. Students who plan to work immediately after high school, on the other hand, need not only an opportunity to explore possible careers but also a chance to start learning general work and job-specific skills while still in high school. Students who plan to have some postsecondary education but to attain less than a bachelor's degree need less occupationally specific training than students going immediately to work, but they need a carefully articulated program that links their educational experiences in high school with a specific postsecondary program. Also, educators and policymakers will have to set priorities about who will be served because developing and implementing appropriate opportunities for all students will be a long, difficult process. Thus, the more that is known about subgroups of students, the easier it will be to design programs and target those in most need first. To help support efforts to improve school-to-work transition and focus policy discussions, this paper tries to answer some important questions about high school seniors and their plans and about the early labor market experiences of American youth. Specifically, it considers the following questions: -- What do high school seniors plan to do after high school, and when do they decide this?; -- What are the backgrounds and academic experiences of students who plan to enter the labor force immediately, and how do they differ from those of students who plan different types of postsecondary education?; and -- What are the early labor market experiences of high school students, recent high school graduates, and dropouts? Addressing these questions, this paper relied on two data sources: the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), including the base year and first and second followups; and the Current Population Survey (CPS). Through NELS:88, the National Center for Education Statistics is following (at 2-year intervals at least through 1994) a nationally representative sample of approximately 20,000 individuals who were eighth-graders in 1988. Information is now available on students' backgrounds, academic and work experiences, and plans for the future from surveys administered in 1988, 1990, and the spring of 1992. For most of the sample, this was their final term in high school. The CPS, conducted each month by the Bureau of the Census, collect labor force data on all individuals in a nationally representative sample of about 60,000 households. Each October, a set of supplementary questions on education is added, making it possible to examine the link between work experience and education for individuals by age, sex, and race-ethnicity. The October 1992 CPS and supplement are used in this study to address the question about labor market experiences. Also included in this report are numerous graphs and charts which display this information.