Programs of Study as State Mandate: A Longitudinal Study of the Personal Pathways to Success Initiative

Project Overview

Principal Investigators

Sam Drew
Interim Director
National Dropout Prevention Center
Clemson University
Cathy Hammond
Research Associate
National Dropout Prevention Center
Clemson University

In 2005, the state of South Carolina initiated an innovative approach to career-focused education through the Education and Economic Development Act (EEDA). Developed with the backing of the state’s business community, EEDA aims to improve student achievement and preparedness for postsecondary education and high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand jobs. It does so through a focus on career awareness and exploration and the creation of locally relevant programs of study (POS)/career pathways.

In this study, NRCCTE researchers at Clemson University examined the influence of EEDA on the development of POS/career pathways as well as the influence of these POS/career pathways on high school students’ engagement, achievement, and transition to postsecondary education or employment. Researchers focused particularly on those components of EEDA implementation that are most relevant to high schools and investigating the influence of these components on students and POS/career pathway development over a five-year period in a sample of eight South Carolina high schools. The study also explored whether the availability of school and community resources and future employment opportunities—whether substantial or limited—influenced the development of POS and the outcomes for students enrolled in them.

Three student cohorts (the Classes of 2009, 2011, and 2014) with varying levels of exposure to EEDA policy were followed. Researchers collected both quantitative and qualitative data, including student and guidance personnel surveys; systems data like grades, attendance, and dropout rates; content analyses of course catalogs and career-related materials; and interviews and focus groups with school guidance personnel, teachers, administrators, and students at the high schools as well as administrators at partner postsecondary institutions.

Special Publications Related to the Personal Pathways Study:

Techniques Magazine (January 2012 Programs of Study Issue)

International Journal of Educational Reform (Spring 2012 Special Issue)