Prepárate 2024

Bridging Pathways to Success: Career Kickstart and Expanding AP Into CTE

Attendees at the 2024 Preparate™ Conference in Austin, Texas, were invited to learn about an exciting new program that’s designed to accelerate high school students on their path to in-demand careers. Career Kickstart, developed by College Board, is expanding the successful model of Advanced Placement® (AP®) to the career and technical education (CTE) space by offering high schools a new set of career-oriented courses and exams.

Accelerating Students to In-Demand Careers 

Michael Warner, director of research and scale for Career Kickstart, opened the session by sharing that, while CTE is already a popular option for high school students across the country (with more than 8 million students enrolling in such a course in the 2021-22 school year), CTE as it exists now is often inconsistent in its delivery, without a standardized approach on how to implement it well in the classroom. College Board is launching Career Kickstart because it sees an opportunity to strengthen CTE and make sure that it is equitable for those who benefit from it. 

Career Kickstart will develop courses in pathways that prepare students for high-demand, high-wage jobs that don’t require a bachelor's degree. Entry-level cybersecurity, to be piloted in the 2024-25 school year, is the first pathway being developed and will consist of two courses: Networking Fundamentals and Cybersecurity Fundamentals. The program will provide a framework for high-quality instruction, coursework that leads to a path toward industry-recognized credentials, and the opportunity to pursue college credit through end-of-course exams.

What Students and Teachers Are Saying 

Warner then handed the mic to a panel of students and educators from Sonia Sotomayor High School and William H. Taft High School in San Antonio, TX, who’ve been piloting the first Career Kickstart framework. 

Students immediately stated that these courses are setting them up with the skills they need to succeed in college, with some of them already securing internships in the cybersecurity field. While several students acknowledged they are taking the course because they had an interest in technology, they believe that these types of courses should be offered in high schools because “technology is so much a part of daily life and students need to be able to navigate the digital world safely, even if they’re not going into it for their career.” One panelist suggested that CTE courses are good for “people my age who don’t know what they want to do … this lets them experiment.” 

Warner had earlier explained that Career Kickstart is focused on applied learning and real-world experiences, helping students to solve problems rooted in authentic scenarios. Tim Gonzalez, an information technology teacher at Sotomayor High School, illustrated that his Career Kickstart students helped repair cables in the school principal’s office. One student, enthusiastic about the real-world implications for what he’s studying said: 

Cybersecurity is so important in this day and age—even the watch on your wrist could be hijacked at any time. We’re like cyber-soldiers, you know. It’s awesome.

Student at Sotomayor High School

Outside of the connection to technology, students are also honing skills that they can apply to other classes. One student feels that her Career Kickstart course “has taught me a lot more about problem-solving and working with others, especially after being enclosed in my own little box during covid.” Another says that “this course is my critical-thinking course. It’s challenging but that’s also what makes it rewarding. It’s the course I’m most interested in and it’s helping me communicate with other people about what I like and what I want to do in the future.” 

As of now, the students’ plans after high school include going to the University of Texas at San Antonio to take more cyber coursework, entering a two-year community college program with the goal of eventually moving to a four-year institution, and joining the military. 

No matter what path they decide to take, students are excited that the field of cyber security is growing and “our whole community is changing.” Mr. Gonzalez echoed that sentiment by telling the audience that “we’re closing the gap” so students don’t have to leave their school to go to a specialized high school to access high-quality CTE courses: “We’re making sure we’re not leaving anyone behind.” 

Schools interested in piloting Career Kickstart in the 2025-26 school year can learn more here. The application process opens June 2024.