EdSystems, ICCB Release 1st Four Model Programs of Study Guides

After a period of public comment, Education Systems Center is pleased to release the first four Model Programs of Study in partnership with the Illinois Community College Board. These guides focus on the following industry sectors: Education, Health Sciences and Technology, Information Technology, and Manufacturing and Engineering.


As we talk about Programs of Study, whether in the secondary or postsecondary context, four core components are always present: making sure there’s support for individualized planning at the student level, sequencing career-focused coursework and related competencies, integrating work-based learning, and aligning core academic work. We look at Programs of Study not as a secondary or postsecondary strategy, but as an integrated secondary to postsecondary process that incorporates progressing stackable credentials and degrees leading to in-demand careers that pay a living wage.

The guides build on the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act, which established the new system for College and Career Pathway Endorsements, built out a new State policy system for transitional instruction courses, set up a system for competency-based education models in high school to support student progressions, and also provided more supports for helping students understand their postsecondary and career plans. The PWR Act framework is infused in our State’s Perkins V and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plans, as well as the economic development plans of the administration and even the work we at EdSystems are doing around dual credit access and addressing the teacher shortage.

Designing the Model Programs of Study

The Illinois Community College Board, the overseeing agency for the 48 community college systems throughout the State, partnered with EdSystems in 2019 to work closely with the Illinois State Board of Education, secondary and postsecondary educators, employers, and other stakeholders to be able to map out Model Programs of Study using an industry sector-based lens. The Model Programs of Study are intended to provide exemplars for local programs to adopt or customize as they develop programs of study for approval as part of the Perkins V Plan. This is also serving as a framework for the State agencies to help develop program supports. A key component has been looking to identify what are the priority dual credit courses that are foundational to the different sector areas and are well-situated for statewide scaling and articulation. We extended that down to identifying the key competencies that need to be sequenced from the basic orientation level on through the advanced/capstone level, as a guide for future development of transferable courses.

We adapted our process for mapping from a number of national models with the hope that these guides can serve communities across Illinois and nationwide. The process begins by identifying high priority occupations within each sector. Using Department of Labor data and the MIT Living Wage Calculator for Illinois, we define high priority occupations as jobs that have a positive growth outlook and currently have a living wage salary to provide for one adult and one child. We also looked at the education and experience required to start in each occupation; as we are designing secondary-to-postsecondary programs of study, we sought to include roles that are accessible to students through community college coursework, and not solely occupations which require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Notably, the occupations included in these guides are intended to serve as benchmarks. As educators seek to customize guides for use in their own regions, we encourage you to use these tools to more narrowly focus on your geographic areas and determine if the High Priority Occupations we selected for this statewide guide would hold promise for your own students.

Having identified high-priority occupations, the next part of this process is determining the promising credentials, i.e. the stackable degrees or certificates needed for each sector. We focused on credentials typically available across Illinois community colleges. If there is a credential that didn’t lead to a high priority occupation but does stack to one, we did allow it in our analysis. For example, the median hourly wage for a Certified Nursing Assistant is well below the living wage standard, but because that certification opens up opportunities to become a Licensed Practical Nurse or Registered Nurse—both of which offer much higher wages—we included this credential.

Once we identified the promising credentials, we sought to identify the most strategic and foundational community college courses across programs. We took a sample of community colleges and analyzed their most common courses, then worked with our advisory councils to determine which of those courses could be accessible for dual credit and which were most likely to be transferable between community colleges or on to a four-year university. 

We then used that early college analysis to map the secondary to postsecondary sequences, thanks to the valued input of the advisory councils. When mapping a secondary to postsecondary sequence, we sought to pay attention to other State policy frameworks and pathways criteria. Each sequence is designed to lead to a College and Career Pathway Endorsement (CCPE), which can be added to high school students’ transcripts. Two key components of the CCPE are critical to the Model Programs of Study work. First, students have to complete a career-focused instructional sequence, which includes at least six hours of early college credit. As you’ll see in the design of the pathways, we made sure that the career-focused courses reach or exceed that threshold. There is also a focus on academic readiness. If students are ready, we encourage them to enroll in early college math, English, social science and life science courses. For students who are not yet ready in reading, English, and math skills, we support enrollment in transitional courses that will prepare them for the rigors of college.

These course recommendations begin in 9th grade and continue through the first year of college. They’re designed not to corner students into specific occupations within a sector too early, but to give students access to as many quality professions as possible within each industry area. We took into account the various types of student scheduling practices, including block schedules, seeking to be as flexible as possible. We also tried to create a sequence that allows for work-based learning opportunities and includes recommendations for core academic subject areas that are complements to a specific pathway or industry sector. 

Finally, with our course sequence in place, we looked to define related technical competencies for each sector that can be utilized to develop future courses that could become transferable. These build on the PWR Act’s Recommended Technical Competencies.

Next Steps for Model Programs of Study

The intention of the Model Programs of Study is that local communities will replicate these guides for your specific region. EdSystems is now engaged with several communities, including stakeholders in Chicago, Rockford and Elgin, on how to apply this work and create their own, customized secondary to postsecondary pathways.

Model Programs of Study guides for four new industry sectors are now in the early stages of development: Architecture, Construction, and Energy; Arts and Communication; Finance and Business Services; and Agricultural, Food, and Natural Resources. 

Interested in joining an advisory council for a future guide or learning more about applying these models in your community? Please contact us!

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