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How School-Business Partnerships Can Boost Experiential Learning

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Business-education partnerships. It's a phrase making the rounds more often lately as educators and policymakers take a renewed interest in hands-on learning that prepares students for careers.

But what do these partnerships look like? A new report offers some answers to that question by profiling 10 partnerships that provide experiential learning. The study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation focuses on connections between employers and higher education, but its takeaway lessons offer insight to businesses and educators who are interested in K-12 school partnerships, too. Take a look:

  • Focus on the return-on-investment. Incorporate career-specific know-how into traditional curriculum.
  • Be transparent: Educators and business partners should articulate clear goals and responsibilities.
  • Be intentional about competencies, and link experiences to career pathways. That way, students can easily translate their experiences into skills that help them in the workforce.
  • Involve small companies. They may not be able to offer a multitude of opportunities, but their engagement is valuable.

Business partnerships are all too rare in the public K-12 system, and yet they play a crucial role in schools' ability to offer students the internships, apprenticeships, and mentoring that can help them explore career ideas and develop technical skills for careers they're aiming for. Partnerships are a particular need in career and technical education, where teachers frequently report that it's difficult to build a diverse network of connections to local businesses.

Businesses have a vested interest in helping schools offer solid career curriculum and work experience for students, the report says.

"If employers take their engagement to the next level and contribute to creating career pathways, all involved parties benefit," it says.  

So what are these colleges and universities doing to infuse learning with career preparation? 

Bates College in Maine keeps an eye on which industries students choose, and offers coursework in those areas, bringing in practitioners in the field to help teach them. At DePaul University in Chicago, students design internships and take coursework linked to those job experiences.

The University of Texas-Austin created a leadership development program with an internship component. Students progress from learning resume-writing and other job skills to on-campus internships and then to off-campus internships. A key goal of the program was to boost graduation rates for low-income, often first-generation, students. And it's done that, narrowing the gap between those students and more affluent students from college-going families.

The U.S. Chamber Foundation released the report as part of an initiative called Launch My Career, a website tool designed to provide families with information about in-demand jobs in their states, pathways to those jobs, and projected earnings. The site has information so far on Colorado, Tennessee, and Texas, and will add other states as it's built out.


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