On Thursday, Oct. 18, more than 100 K-12, community college, and university faculty and administrators came together on the campus of Northern Illinois University as part of a collaboration designed to increase certification and degree attainment, as well as to promote seamless transitions for students from pre-kindergarten through college and the workforce.
The Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network was founded in 2014 with a mission to improve college and career readiness through regional collaboration. Initially funded by a grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Northern Illinois P-20 Network is facilitated by the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement at NIU as part of its college readiness activities.
Gina Caronna, who has been the director of the P-20 Network since February 2018, was excited to bring together representatives from K-12 and post-secondary institutions to do the difficult and important work of aligning high-school and college courses and career pathways to promote student achievement.
“The misalignment of secondary and post-secondary education is often cited as a reason for students’ lack of retention in college,” she says. “The P-20 Network promotes a platform that encourages dialogue around bridging gaps and paving the way for students to be successful in college and career preparation.”
The recent October meeting consisted of panel presentations from different working groups who are creating new college and career pathways for students, developing dual credit programs and working to develop curriculum to meet competency-based standards, which better prepare students for the next stage in their education. Each panel included participants from at least two different institutions, representing both K-12 and college/university perspectives. The participants shared stories of their ongoing collaborations to facilitate student success and prepare them for rewarding careers.
Caronna says, “The meeting highlighted the journeys that several groups are taking to align programs and policies for students. Programs have been designed, course sequences have been created, but implementing them takes a high level of collaboration and innovation. I wanted people to talk about what they have encountered along their journey to promote alignment, how they have worked through issues and what they’ve done to ‘stay at the table’.”
The participants appreciated the candid discussions, as well as the chance to reconnect with current and potential partners, an opportunity the network regularly offers.
A particularly important topic for many was the development of career pathways, which guide students through courses and internship experiences beginning in high school and continuing through certificate or degree programs that will prepare them for rewarding, in-demand careers.
Douglas Jensen, president of Rock Valley College, appreciated the chance to broaden networking opportunities with local and statewide K-12 partners, as well as to expand relationships with NIU staff. He says these relationships are particularly valuable because they have allowed Rock Valley College to create a number of career pathways that allow students to seamlessly pursue degrees in fields such as public safety, computer science and networking, coding and mobile apps development and mechanical engineering, beginning in high school.
“Creating pathways for our high school students allows the students and parents to offset some of the future cost of higher education and decrease time to graduation,” he says. “In addition, the development of pathways has brought the college in closer communication with the private sector as well as governmental leaders to show how the investment in education is related to economic growth.”
Nik Butenhoff, director of career readiness for Belvidere School District, is also working to develop a number of career pathways with P-20 Network partners.
He says, “The P-20 network helps connect people who are working to achieve similar goals. I have found that often the network provides that little push we need to accomplish things. I think about my youngest daughter who tries to climb onto the couch to sit by her brothers. She tries and tries but can’t quite make it. Then my son offers his hand to give that little extra support. She grabs a hold and finally is able to make it. I think of the P-20 Network in the same way. They are consistently reaching out their ‘hands’ and helping districts achieve their goals.”
Stephanie Bernoteit, deputy director for Academic Affairs of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, appreciated how many educational leaders took the time to participate in the P-20 Network meeting.
“It was exciting and energizing to see educational leaders from school districts and institutions of higher education come together as part of the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network,” she says. “This regional meeting was a great example of leaders doing the hard work of developing regional solutions to solving regional problems in order to support all learners from early childhood to young and working adults in successfully taking the next steps in their educational journeys. The commitment of these leaders in devoting time out of their busy schedules to this effort is a sign of how valuable regional networks like this can be.”