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Afterschool goes to college

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Afterschool goes to college

After celebrating an updated law in Career and Technical Education (CTE) in July, it’s natural to ask “What’s next?” in the education landscape for Congress. One thing on the agenda is the Higher Education Act, or HEA, which governs federal investments in making quality education at colleges and universities accessible and achievable across the nation. The law has been due for reauthorization since 2013 and was last updated a decade ago.

But what does higher education have to do with afterschool and summer learning? As it turns out, quite a bit! Below, we highlight the top five connections between afterschool and higher education.

  1. The purpose of federal education law in higher education: Initially authorized in 1965, the first purpose mentioned in the original law was strengthening the community service programs of colleges and universities to “assist… the people of the United State in the solution of community problems such as housing, poverty, recreation, employment, youth opportunities, transportation, health and land use.” (Emphasis added.)
  1. Opportunities for work-study: Many of us participated in work-study to help support our college educations. These experiences can benefit both the student and the community. In fact, the original 1965 law which adopted the work-study program set it up to allow students to “work in the public interest for a public or private non-profit organization.” Today, many university students get to share their knowledge and learn from their communities by performing work-study in afterschool and summer learning programs and other activities that align with their career goals. See the Students Helping Younger Students Act to learn more.
  1. Teacher Training: The higher education law recognizes that colleges and universities are the training grounds for the educators of tomorrow and that providing quality teachers to underserved areas is essential for a strong educated democracy. The HEA law’s Title II focuses entirely on preparing educators from recruitment, through training, mentoring, and educator leadership. Afterschool and summer programs support this work in a variety of ways, but here are three particularly interesting points:
  1. Career Interest: First, afterschool and summer learning programs are often places where people first become interested in a career in education. Informal educators working in afterschool programs, museums, and as summer camp counselors often find their passion for a lifelong career. Moreover, these informal educators often are from the local community and reflect the diversity of the community in which they work. For example, a current bill under consideration, the AIM Higher Act, mentions that Title II could be used in part to “recruit profession-ready individuals, including underrepresented groups and individuals from other occupations (including informal education and youth development fields as teachers and other educators).” Additionally, the PREP Act would create a system of grants for communities to institute “Grow Your Own” programs that would aim to recruit “afterschool and summer program staff.”i
  1. Career Mentoring: Undergraduate students who are training to be teachers can receive training in afterschool and summer settings. Programs like Breakthrough and California Teaching Fellows use these informal education spaces to provide training teachers with low-ratio student-to-teacher classrooms and exposure to students in diverse geographic and demographic settings. Breakthrough provides training teachers with an expert teacher mentor and small groups of 7-10 students identified for support over the summer. Training teachers can provide a lesson in the morning, receive feedback, and approach the afternoon with new skills to practice.
  1. On-going Training: Afterschool and summer learning programs often have the ability to innovate new and effective ways of teaching and relating to youth. Teachers can coordinate with afterschool and summer programs to train. They may observe and try lessons in hands-on and project based learning, receive training in areas like cultural competency, youth leadership, and youth development practices, or try a new technology like a maker-space. And this training path can work both ways: the AIM Higher Act correctly recognizes that training quality educators means ensuring their involvement and collaboration with parents and the community, encouraging “the sharing of knowledge, insight, and best practices in the community served by the school, preschool program or early childhood education program with youth serving programs (such as before- and after-school and summer programs).” Furthermore, the bill supports training that helps principals and school leaders “actively engage with families and the community to create a shared responsibility for student academic performance and successful development.”
  1. The Next Generation of College Going Students: It probably goes without saying that getting students to have a quality higher education experience first requires them getting to an institute of higher education. The path to college requires a roadmap—including supporting academic readiness, exposure to the idea of college and college campuses, career and financial aid counseling, and building social networks of support. Federal programs in HEA such as the TRIO programs like Upward Bound and GEAR UP do just this and allow community-based organizations to work with high-need students to support their path to and through their college careers. Additionally, a section of the law on supporting STEM fields provides grants to eligible partnerships to support the engagement of underrepresented minority and low-income youth grades K-12 in STEM through outreach and hands-on, experiential-based learning projects.
  1. Child Care: This might be the most straightforward connection. Higher education students with children need safe, engaging spaces for their children while they engage in their studies, advance their careers and develop more opportunities for themselves and their family. HEA legislation recognizes this need with a Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools which provides grants which can be used to offer “before and after school services to the extent necessary to enable low-income students enrolled at the institution of higher education to pursue postsecondary education.”

In Congress, the Senate has not yet approached HEA reauthorization. Meanwhile the House has put forth two pieces of legislation, a Republican-backed bill and a Democratic-backed bill, but has not yet created a bipartisan path to reauthorization.

The ten years between the last reauthorization and discussions of the next have deepened understanding of the role community partners can play in developing effective educators, recruiting diverse professionals, providing meaningful work experience, and rounding out a student’s education. Colleges can also work with programs by supporting the research base, developing research to practice partnerships, as well as sharing space and equipment from pools to laboratories to summer dorms for those in need of first-time exposure to the college experience. 

Newly reauthorized legislation passed in the last few years, such as ESSA and CTE, had broad bipartisan support. We hope that advocates of quality education on both sides of the aisle will work together to implement an updated HEA law both reflective of new learnings and best practices in the field and reminiscent of the original intent of the law to recruit and develop the talent we need to solve problems in, and provide service to, our communities.

iNeither the AIM Higher Act nor the Prep Act is currently a bipartisan bill. The Afterschool Alliance does not endorse any legislation that is not bipartisan.

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