The Changing Definition of College & Career Readiness

Doug Ferguson

College and Career Readiness means different things to different people, and I’m certainly no exception. My perspective on college and career readiness changes with each phase of life. As I learn, grow, and gain experience, so do my thoughts on the subject.


K-8 Student Experience

Needless to say, I didn’t have much of a sense of what college and career readiness meant as a young student. I knew that “I could do anything” due to the proverbial teacher and parental platitudes, but I had no context for what that meant or involved. Luckily, I liked school.


High School

The cusp of college came as a rude awakening. I had very little exposure to possible careers and didn’t really know what was out there. Careers were not something we learned much about in school. So, as most kids are so inclined, I was following in my parents’ footsteps to be either an engineer like my father or educator like my mother. I worked hard to get into the best school that I could with as great a financial support package as possible and landed at a top tier liberal arts school.



While I wasn’t fully prepared for college by my K-12 experience, I definitely wasn’t ready for the career portion of things. College taught me how to think at level beyond my K-12 education, but success in college induced a false sense of confidence that I would graduate ready for the workplace.


Early Career

This is when my reality check for career readiness happened. I had no idea what it meant to work and focus full-time at a job, and I struggled to reconcile my experience with the various stressors involved: focusing for 8-10 hours straight per day, paying all of my own bills, being mostly independent in my task management, dealing with the dramatic increase in responsibilities, and more. This caused me to seek a return to the safety of college. While I did complete a successful first year in the financial industry, I gladly turned down a promotion in exchange for continuing my education.



I was a good student, so I’d be a good teacher, right? Wow, like the majority of the population, I had no idea how much more there was to teaching than what I experienced on the student side of things. Talk about the tip of the iceberg. Factor in the culture shock of going from a middle-class background to working in a Title I setting and I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, my views on college and career readiness evolved enough to be practical and applicable to my context. I encouraged, as I believe all teachers should, my students to explore whatever level of post-secondary education was most appropriate to their personal goals. We talked about trade schools, community college, military training, certification programs, and four-year college programs. The emphasis was not on one option being better than the others (because that’d be a comparison of false equivalencies) but on what best fit with student interests, passions, and goals. I made sure that my students had a knowledge of the opportunities available to them. That, and teaching the importance of pursuing some level of life-long learning regardless of career choice, while emphasizing that everyone can pursue any route they choose if they are willing to work hard enough for it.


Instructional Coach

As a STEM Specialist and Instructional Coach, the opportunity arose to have schoolwide college and career readiness conversations. I participated in regional trainings and learned more about the importance of sharing all options with all students while teaching every student that each can achieve any route they choose. Through this experience, I became ever increasingly aware of STEM education opportunities as a way to close opportunity and achievement gaps. These in-demand, livable income careers consisted of jobs that all of my students could do but that they didn’t necessarily know existed due to a lack of prior exposure. My job transitioned into including raising awareness, bringing in career experts, and helping students to explore new possibilities.


Advancement Via Individual Determination

My perspective on college and career readiness is still evolving and continues to be challenged and changed over time. I now work for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). I love this because we teach students that anything is possible as long as they are willing to work hard enough, while providing them with outside tools and support to achieve their goals. AVID focuses on closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for all students while empowering them for post-secondary success. This work has evolved from a one-size, fits all approach of four-year college to preparing students for the best fit for them. This is important because some students have goals and dreams that require a different journey than a four-year college degree; we validate essential career options such as construction, the trades in general, police and fire services, nursing, the military, and so much more. We need all of these jobs filled by our upcoming workforce and there are bright futures for those that pursue these routes. Given that AVID is evolving its own view as an organization combined with my work there in STEM education, this has led to a lot of interesting conversations over the past year. The important thing is that we’re talking, focusing on the common ground of helping kids, and ultimately doing the best we can to create a brighter future for all!


Ongoing Questions

I continue to seek out opportunities to challenge my own perspectives and hidden biases as my views around college and career readiness continue to grow and evolve. These, of course, exist in a variety of areas relevant to guiding career and college readiness choices. Words matter. Words count. For all students to be successful, we have to carefully communicate in a manner that empowers every one of them. This is an area where we all can improve. One of my favorite quotes from a National Science Teaching Association conference is, “If you have a brain then you have a bias.” So, be honest with yourself, because this is a question we all should be asking, “What is our personal hidden bias around preparing all students for college and career readiness?”

Guest Blogger: Doug Ferguson

Senior Learning Designer at AVID

Twitter: @DaskalosDouglas  

  • AVID
  • College and Career Readiness
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