What every educator should know about robust STEM pathways and programs of study

by Joel R. Malin / Mar 20, 2014

Imagine you’re a high school teacher and that as your students graduate, you could rest easily—if only briefly—knowing that you and your colleagues have:

  • powerfully cultivated and improved their talents;
  • helped them to more fully understand their strengths and interests in relationship to what is most highly valued and needed within different careers; and
  • enhanced their ability to move smoothly into a chosen college, military, and/or career pursuit.

In an evolving and demanding labor market, creating smooth secondary-to-postsecondary pathways is increasingly seen as essential.Ideally, students will be guided and afforded opportunities to develop and grow within career pathways and programs of study that align with their talents, goals, and interests. Course and program offerings, in turn, will reflect labor market considerations, leveraging business partnerships to offer real-life learning opportunities.

STEM-area learning may take heightened significance based upon both current and projected job markets. STEM occupations have been projected to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018, versus 9.8% growth for non-STEM occupations.2  Meanwhile, the need to improve underrepresented students’ exposure and paths into STEM fields is evident. Clearly, terrific benefits can accrue to students if we can successfully engage a diverse student population via STEM education.

Thus, robust and context-sensitive STEM pathways and programs of study, engineered hand-in-hand by secondary, postsecondary, and business partners, are highly promising.  The “catch” is that these programs and paths are complex and multi-faceted, requiring will, skill, and a framework or guide!  This is where Pathways Resource Center aims to provide a measure of help:  recently, we created a High School Program of Study Companion to the Illinois Programs of Study Guide, published by the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) in 2009.3 This companion document is aimed to support educators at various levels of program of study development and implementation. It is attentive to the Illinois context and integrates recent findings regarding successful and highly implemented programs of study.

Perhaps most importantly, this document includes a set of guiding principles, considered firstly from the vantage point of the secondary educator and leader. It also includes a set of suggested steps and phases to the development and implementation of programs of study, based upon program of study resources created by other states. Altogether, it is aimed to lighten the load—and enhance the effectiveness—of educators and partners who wish to pursue or continue these complex and meaningful undertakings.

Joel R. Malin is a curriculum specialist at the Pathways Resource Center. He is passionate about creating pathways to future college and career success for all students.  

  1. Symonds, W. C., Schwartz, R., & Ferguson, R. F. (2011). Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
  2. Langdon, D., McKittrick, G., Beede, D. Khan, B., & Doms, M. (2011). STEM: Good jobs now and for the future. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration. Retrieved from http://www.esa.doc.gov/Reports/stem-good-jobs-now-and-future
  3. Taylor, J. L., Kirby, C. L., Bragg, D. D., Oertle, K. M., Jankowski, N. A., & Khan, S. S. (2009, July). Illinois programs of study guide. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois.