A Moment with Dr. Moore

April 22, 2021

The Promise of the High School CDA®

Millions of young people are searching for the path from high school to careers. In recent years, the percentage of young adults who hold jobs has reached historic lows. In 2018, more than four million 16- to 24-year-olds were “opportunity youth,” neither employed nor in school. From spring 2019 to spring 2020, unemployment among young adults spiked from 8.4 percent to 14.4 percent. And now the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the youth labor market into an even greater crisis.

To make matters worse, COVID-19 has also hurt their chances to attend college as families face crushing financial burdens. “The past year has brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty to everyone, and high school students are feeling this uncertainty as they navigate the transition to the next phase of their lives,” said Christine Roberts, head of student lending at Citizens Financial Group.

Recently, Citizens and Junior Achievement conducted a survey of 2,000 students aged 13 to19, as well as 500 who graduated from high school last year. It found that parents were cutting back on financial support for college, especially among families of color. While 45 percent of white high school juniors and seniors said their parents were reducing their financial input, nearly 60 percent of Black and Hispanic teens said the pandemic will affect how they pay for college. And this lack of opportunity could widen the school-to-prison pipeline that sucks in far too many young Black students.

It doesn’t have to be that way if we build strong bridges between high school and the work world. Career and technical education programs offer a smooth transition by allowing young folks to gain a skill and a credential in their field of choice. CTE programs also prepare students for higher education and can count for college credit if—and when—students do decide to return to college. So, we should build apprenticeship programs, such as the CDA, into our high schools. This will ensure that there is a skilled workforce right out of high school, especially in professions where there’s a pressing need.

Early childhood care and education is one of those in-demand fields, even more so as parents look to return to work after the COVID lockdown. So, this month was a perfect time for the Council to launch our new effort to help more high schoolers earn their CDA. Our launch event featured a panel of early childhood leaders who have guided students in earning their credential, along with Alexys Barfield, a recent high school grad, and now a college student, who talked about how the CDA helped her get ahead.

The launch also marked the release of our new, hot-off-the-press CDA Handbook for High School, an essential tool for high school CTE leaders in launching or sustaining a CDA program. Besides setting out policies and procedures, it also describes the benefits of the credential. Students take coursework that translates into college credits and inspires them to keep on learning. They gain confidence as professionals in the early childhood field and have the competence to meet families’ needs for a safe, enriching place where they can leave their young children while at work.

High school grads who take on this key role are on the path to productive lives: purchasing a home, starting a family and planning for a better future. The CDA is a great solution for the many young folks who are flailing in the fallout of COVID-19 since it prepares them for an in-demand career. It also allows them to leave a lasting mark on young learners, as extensive research shows. There’s wide consensus that children who receive education from competent, caring teachers—like those who earn a CDA—are also more likely to have stable homes and productive lives as adults.

High school CDA programs make an impact on the future—while opening doors for young people now, as Alexys pointed out at our launch event. “Get your CDA,” she urged the nearly 2,000 people who registered for the launch. “It’s something that can change your life.” In our post-pandemic world, the CDA puts the promise of rewarding careers within the reach of our high school students. And they, in turn, will have the skills to help young children also reach their own promise. The high school CDA offers high hopes for the young adults of today and tomorrow.


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