Illinois: STEM Learning Exchanges

The STEM Learning Exchanges, launched by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in 2012, are public-private partnerships between education and business leaders designed to prepare students for high-demand, high-skill careers while simultaneously developing a talent pipeline for local businesses. Since the launch of the program, the Learning Exchanges have helped support high school and community colleges through e-learning curriculum resources, laboratory space and equipment, work-based learning opportunities, professional development for educators and more. Further, the Learning Exchanges have helped leverage more than $8 million in business resources in support of student learning. The Illinois STEM Learning Exchanges, and the way the partnerships were developed and implemented, model how a state can effectively engage the private sector to improve the quality of its career pathways.

After receiving a Phase 3 federal Race to the Top grant in 2012, the Illinois State Board of Education issued a Request for Information, outlining its vision to develop Career Cluster®-specific Learning Exchanges in nine priority areas. In the letter, the board described the Exchanges as “a statewide network and resource repository” to support teachers, administrators and students, and serve as collaborative communities. A non-profit or government entity would support each Exchange by developing a three-year strategic plan, supporting implementation of a STEM program of study, administering funds, and conducting fundraising activities.

In the end, the state Board of Education awarded eight contracts to partnering organizations to either implement or plan Learning Exchanges in the following high-demand Career Clusters®:

  • Manufacturing;
  • Health Science;
  • Research & Development;
  • Information Technology;
  • Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources;
  • Energy;
  • Finance; and
  • Transportation, Distribution & Logistics.

While the board allocated $2.3 million of Race to the Top money toward the Learning Exchange contracts, funds were supplemented with an additional $8 million in in-kind donations and matching funds from partnering organizations.

Policy in Action
The Learning Exchanges have served as a productive mechanism for connecting the public and private sectors and have generated countless opportunities for students to hone their career interests through hands-on experiences and access to industry experts. The state’s most developed Learning Exchange — Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, which is led by Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education (FCAE) — engaged more than 23,000 students between 2013 and 2015. Key initiatives include developing lesson plans for agriculture teachers; offering professional development workshops for agriculture teachers; and providing work-based learning experiences for agricultural education students in the state, 41 percent of whom participated in an internship in 2014.

Meanwhile the Health Science Learning Exchange, led by University of Illinois at Chicago, reached more than 12,500 students between 2013 and 2015. The Exchange created a high school curriculum to develop skills relevant to the health science field; helped lead the Junior Academy of Science Annual Science Exposition, where students presented research projects with support from professionals in the field; and contributed toward the development of a career mentorship platform.

While participation can range from leading an exchange consortium to simply contributing resources, the program has helped bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to support career education in Illinois. According to a 2015 report, more than 170 partnering organizations — including leaders in private industry, higher education, workforce development and more — continue to play an active role in the STEM Learning Exchange partnerships.

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Published: 
September 2012