The Promise of Apprenticeships in Advancing Equity
In celebration of National Apprenticeship Week, it is worthy to examine the different ways that this formal learn-and-earn model serves as a critical lever for equity. In equity, I am referring to closing the achievement gaps for underserved and underrepresented Americans that seek not only to enroll and complete college, but also successfully land living-wage jobs in their career field of choice.
The current postsecondary education outcomes for many black and brown students has been dismal. The downward trend in college enrollment means the inputs in the value chain for economic mobility limit the scale of the outputs. But even with successful entry into college, the persistence, retention, and completion rates remain less certain for this population of students than their peers. And even with success in earning a postsecondary degree or credential, the pathway to a promising career to make use of that credential is uncertain at best.
The remnants of the leaky pipeline can be seen in all aspects of our society. Without the remote chance of entering college, the earning potential for someone diminishes often more than $1 million, in their lifetime. And an unsuccessful attempt from enrolling in college serves as a primary driver of outstanding student debt, which inches nationally close to $2 trillion. The failure to successfully enter into a career pathway perpetuates the longstanding disparity of equal representation in many career fields, especially in STEM-related industries. While it is not the total sum of local, state, and federal social burden costs, it most certainly is a critical contributor.
Where the apprenticeship model serves as a potential remedy to the aforementioned issues rests with the immersion of the student into both education and work, guided by individuals that clarify the value the student brings to the industry. And the value proposition is precisely where the intangible benefits of learn-and-earn models shed light on our national dilemma of economic immobility.
A few years ago, I produced a report that highlighted the abnormally great performance in higher education for student athletes, exceeding the expectations for students of color or low-income students. But, we clearly know why. They are the prized representation of excellence for many institutions, and the resources provided to them are a reflection of their value to the larger community. For the student athlete, whether they intend to exceed expectations or not, the outside view of their fishbowl is surrounded by different faces in the community that show care and concern for their development. And thus, we have evidence that equitable enrollment, retention, completion, and placement can be achieved.
The view outside the fishbowl looks much different for the student that does not trigger the wraparound effect that their colleagues garnered because of the academic or athletic ability. Not for all, but for many, they are tolerated and accommodated reluctantly, either throughout their collegiate journey — however long that may be, or on various points along the path.
What is ironic in the mindset of higher education is that successful outcomes for athletes — while important, pale in comparison to success for the rest of the student body, with residual benefits that are quantifiable.
Apprenticeships bring forward that value proposition. There are obviously no sold out stadiums to celebrate their presence and their achievements, but there is a community that not only appreciates their engagement but has a stake in their ultimate success. More than anything, underserved and underrepresented students need to understand their value to our nation. If we can manage to pull this off for them, through apprenticeships or similar learn-and-earn models, I am certain they will also exceed the current expectations for their success and their contribution to the larger community.
I encourage you to seek out someone that is an apprentice or supports an apprenticeship program to learn more about the potential promise of our nation.