Reimagining Education Series: Innovative College and Career Pathways to Advance Equity and Opportunity

Disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have introduced opportunities for PK–12 education systems to accelerate evidence-based innovations that may better prepare students to pursue their educational and career goals. By strengthening and introducing pathways—the programs and experiences students complete to satisfy graduation requirements—leading to high-demand careers and college enrollment, educators and policymakers can support students’ postsecondary ambitions.  As states and school systems emerge from the pandemic, there is new focus and energy around the question of how best to provide robust educational opportunities that improve student outcomes. Region 1 states have been implementing strategies to address this question for years, including Vermont’s flexible pathways initiative and Massachusetts’s high-quality college and career pathways initiative. Paper 1 highlights three evidence-based strategies that, individually or as part of a system of pathways, can support students as they develop marketable workplace skills and prepare for postsecondary educational opportunities:

  • Work-based learning (WBL). WBL programs provide structured opportunities for students to engage in authentic workplace settings to explore fields of interest while applying academic and career-specific skills. These can include internships, apprenticeships, and co-ops, among other opportunities. Research suggests that high-quality WBL programs hold potential to deepen classroom knowledge, improve student employment outcomes, increase graduation rates, and motivate and engage students in their learning.
  • Career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs offer course sequences that equip students with occupation-specific knowledge and technical skills in preparation for entry into related careers and/or postsecondary education. Program offerings vary, but CTE programs commonly offer opportunities in health science, information technology, and manufacturing. Existing research on CTE programs points to a positive relationship between CTE program participation and on-time high school graduation, college math course completion, college attendance, and earnings.
  • Accelerated college credit. Accelerated college credit programs allow students to complete and obtain credit for college-level coursework while still enrolled in high school, ultimately reducing the time and cost of completing a postsecondary degree. Examples of existing college credit programs include exam-based opportunities (such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs), dual enrollment programs, concurrent enrollment programs, and early college programs. These programs are positively related to improved educational outcomes, as well as increased rates of high school graduation, college readiness, college enrollment, and college completion.

As state and district leaders continue to work towards improving postsecondary opportunities for all students and building a state workforce with skills aligned to local business needs, they can utilize these strategies to advance innovative college and career pathways. This paper summarizes the existing evidence base for these strategies, as well as considerations for stakeholders as they build pathways that are accessible for all students. 

View all the papers in the Reimaging Education series.