Delaware Department of Education Program Successes Support Statewide Economic Development

October 14, 2021

It’s been well documented that employers are struggling to find qualified workers or help existing employees get better jobs. That’s why states and municipalities focusing on the intersection of education and workforce development are seeing economic development success.

Forward-looking states see an aging workforce in key industries and students with skills that could translate to the changing needs of the workforce. They focus many of their efforts on middle and high schools and on retraining the existing workforce.

As Delaware eyes one of the biggest capital budgets the state has ever seen, Luke Rhine, director for career and technical education and STEM initiatives with the Delaware Department of Education, predicts that with a federal infrastructure bill in place, “connectivity, cybersecurity, those types of things are all going to be underlying infrastructure issues, which means we’ll see a lot of IT jobs directly connected to the expansion of that infrastructure.”

Rhine’s area is already supporting the change in the environment with:

College and career-ready programming in middle grades. “Our middle grades focus is really around student identity development, helping young people establish confidence and develop an identity within their schools, their communities and their future workplaces,” he says.
High school, which is centered around the state’s Delaware Pathways strategy. “It’s helping students determine what kind of post-secondary path is right for them – the job that they want to hold and the career that they want to pursue or whether they want to move into a two-year degree or a four-year degree or a credential program.”
Post-secondary education. This includes support of the state’s Registered Apprenticeship system and an increased focus around stackable credentials that count toward the pursuit of higher-level credentials and degree models.

“All of our initiatives are essentially employer-driven, which gives them substantial influence over education and training models,” Rhine says. “And then we work with post-secondary institutions and K-12 institutions to think differently around how we structure relationships. And that helps us recruit young people who see themselves in Delaware and as part of a community.”

Rhine says the state’s work in the higher education space is really an adult career pathway strategy that helps adults move as quickly as possible through higher education to pursue gainful employment.

For the credential model, the state is primarily working with four institutions, including the three vocational technical (vo-tech) schools – Polytech, Sussex Tech and New Castle County – which each have an adult education division that runs the state’s Registered Apprenticeship program and short- and long-term credential programs.

“We want to ensure that a person who acquires a licensed practical nurse (LPN) credential is able to move immediately into employment and then that LPN credential allows them to navigate higher levels of education,” Rhine says. “The LPN’s credential also carries credit so a student can, with an LPN certificate, take less time to complete their associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing.”

During his seven years in his current role, Rhine says he’s most proud of three accomplishments:

  • Broadening the definition of career and technical education (CTE). “People often think about CTE as areas like carpentry or cosmetology,” he says. “We are still focused on skilled trades and human services but have also diversified the types of industries and occupations that we support from a college and career-ready standpoint. It’s amazing what young people are doing in terms of their ability to code or automate or even use a drone to collect data for agriculture or construction. It’s very interesting how young people are translating their skills into data science. They’re asking themselves what they want to become and what steps they need to take to get there.”
  • Student outcomes: “There are two outcomes that I’m most proud of,” Rhine says. “The first is the percentage of students who demonstrate college- and career-readiness, who are completing advanced coursework while still in high school. That can be a student who is part of a youth apprenticeship program, they’re taking college courses while still in high school, or completing AP, they’re in a paid work experience. Prior to last year, that number had increased to 58% from 38% over three years. The other thing that I’m really proud of is placement. More than 75% of our students are seamlessly entering higher education, with an increasing percentage who choose to simultaneously work, essentially working while upskilling.”
  • Expansion of instructional programs. Rhine says more than 70% of youth in grades nine through 12 are enrolled in any given year in a career pathway, with two-thirds of graduating classes completing the program. “These are young people who have college credit, who have credentials, who have work experiences in the industry that they want to move into,” Rhine says. “These experiences help to shape who they are and accelerate their trajectory and network. And it’s a great way in which we can help to meet the future needs of Delaware employers at scale and across the state.”

But Rhine believes something else also has spurred greater interest in the state’s post-secondary programs.

“The last 18 months have caused adults to reflect on whether they’re on the right trajectory, if they have the relationships they want and if they have the relationship with their employer that they want,” he says.

Rhine’s team, working in partnership with the state’s technical school systems, are ready to do a full rollout of the youth apprenticeship program, with high school seniors sponsored by an employer and paid a living wage – the average is $17-plus an hour, with wage increases as they progress through the training program – while they’re simultaneously moving toward high-school graduation.

“We’re working with our three Technical School Districts as well as Delaware Technical Community College in partnership with the Associated Builders and Contractors, Delaware Contractors Association, the Delaware Restaurant Association and Tech Impact,” Rhine says. “We want employer-facing groups to recruit employers, and we want educational institutions to prepare more young people to this level of standard and then meet in the middle. So lots of young people, lots of employers, lots of talent. Marry that, away we go.”

Rhine also believes more people will be choosier about the jobs they want.

“I think you’re going to see increases in experiential learning models in higher education, or residency-type models in higher education, because people want to know what’s on the other end of that training program,” he says. “If you want to be a doctor, you do a residency. If you want to be a nurse, there’s a clinical experience. We’re seeing this in education as well. We launched a residency model where we’re actually paying students who want to move into education as resident teachers to work under the wings of a teacher mentor for a much longer period of time than was traditionally associated with student teaching.”

Rhine notes that Delaware schools like DelTech and Wilmington University found that a number of students in their programs needed remedial education, which don’t provide class credit. He said the statistics show that students who move into remedial courses are less likely to complete a credential or degree within a cohort graduation rate. So DelTech, as an example, has completely revamped its remedial education policy to simultaneously enroll youth and adults in credit-bearing math and language classes with the remedial programs and providing support to help the student get the credit toward certification or a degree.

Rhine says in-state schools are also embracing the idea of credit for prior learning.

“If credentials are gateways, then degrees and credentials should align,” he says. “If an older Delawarean enrolls in college with 20 years of work experience, our schools are trying to figure out how that work experiences translates into clock hours or credit hours so they don’t need to sit through things they already know how to do. That enables them to move faster in an apprenticeship program or earn a degree, and the research is very clear: Institutions that have more robust credit for prior learning policy see people graduate faster. It’s common sense.”

Rhine said his area is supporting other state agencies like the Department of Labor, which received funding to look at the H1B1 visa policy and a companion grant to expand IT training programs and a separate grant to expand Registered Apprenticeships. Rhine’s team also received an apprenticeship expansion grant focused on youth. There is great coordination across agencies, he says.

Rhine’s team also has worked to revise Regulation 525, which governs the administration of Delaware’s career and technical education programs.

“Regulations are like guardrails on a road,” he says. “What we’re trying to do with Reg 525 is to align the progress we’ve made with state’s college and career readiness agenda and how we think about CTE programs more globally.”

Rhine says Delaware’s size enables it to adapt and react quickly – and also provide scale.

“Every employer wants access to talent, and every school system with post-secondary institution that we work with wants access to employers who want to integrate into their community,” Rhine says. “Every single one.”