AYPF Policy Pillars, Part 1: Pathways to College and Career Readiness and Success

Betsy Brand, AYPF Executive Director

This is part one of a four-part blog series on AYPF’s key policy pillars. Click here for parts two, three, and four.

As noted in last week’s blog post, AYPF has recently revised its strategic plan and tightened our focus on certain key policy pillars. The four policy pillars that will drive our work in the future are: (1) Personalized Learning; (2) Pathways to College and Career Readiness and Success; (3) Comprehensive Connected Supports; and (4) Expanding Learning and Skill Development.

This week’s blog post will focus on the policy pillar of Pathways to College and Career Readiness and Success and will highlight some programs and initiatives we think hold promise in helping more youth be successful. A pathways approach is needed because a one-size-fits-all education and training system simply cannot meet the needs of the diverse U.S. student body or of the changing workforce. We know that by 2020 65% of all jobs will require some type of postsecondary credential, but almost half of students who attend a community college leave without any credential. We believe career pathways that connect middle school, high school, postsecondary education, other education and training providers, community organizations, employers, and the workforce system that lead to a degree or industry-recognized credential is a valuable strategy to help more youth be prepared for and find long-term employment. Career pathways should be based on college and career ready standards, to ensure students are prepared for a range of education and career options. Youth should have voice and choice in determining the pathway of interest to them and be provided with adequate guidance and counseling as they determine their future career path. Instruction in pathways programs should be engaging and allow youth to participate in some form of work-based learning.

States and communities across the country are adopting career pathways approaches that merit attention. The Pathways to Prosperity Network works with states and regions to develop career pathways that span grades 9-14, enabling students to transition smoothly through high school, into postsecondary education, and on to family-sustaining careers, particularly in high-demand sectors such as information technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing. The aim of the Network is to design a system that serves students and responds to the needs of employers and state and regional economies. The Network has identified four key implementation levers contributing to rigorous academic and career pathways that span grades 9-14:

  • early and sustained career information, awareness, and exposure
  • engaged employers, providing work-based learning opportunities and curricula support
  • intermediary links between education and employers
  • committed state leaders and favorable policy environment

AYPF held a forum to showcase the work that Delaware, a Pathways to Prosperity Network member, is engaged in to bring the pathways model to thousands of students in the state. Delaware developed a strategic plan with multiple partners that focuses on building a comprehensive system of career preparation that aligns with the state and regional economies; scales and sustains meaningful work-based learning experiences for students in grades 7-14; integrates education and workforce development efforts and data systems; coordinates financial support for Delaware Pathways; and engages employers, educators, and service providers to support Delaware Pathways. Delaware began its work in 2014 with 40 students earning credit in one career pathway program, and now 8,750 students are earning credit in fourteen different career pathways. The state hopes to reach 20,000 students by 2020.

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) in Florida and their multiple partners including Miami Dade College and Florida International University have also engaged in career pathways work, and have created dozens of career pathways programs of study. The career pathways sequence rigorous academic and career technical education courses commencing in ninth grade (or sometimes earlier) leading to an associate’s degree, an industry-recognized certificate, or licensure. Students make a smooth transition between high school and college or a technical center and have opportunities to earn college or technical credits for work completed in high school through dual enrollment or articulation agreements.

AYPF organized a study tour for federal education and workforce policy staff to visit Miami to learn about their career pathways work and to visit several career pathways programs. From the Aircraft, Airframe, and Powerplant Mechanic pathways at George T. Baker Aviation Technical College to the Biomedical Sciences pathway at Hialeah Gardens High School, we saw engaged students and teachers involved in hands-on project based learning, linked to rigorous standards. The career pathway programs provide not only relevant academic coursework such as project-based learning and integrated curriculum, but also opportunities to work directly with employers. Students have hands-on work opportunities with industry certified professionals or in internship environments, which are generally paid, culminating in an industry credential. At Baker Aviation Academy, which is located across the road from Miami International Airport, students train on airplanes donated by the airlines and work with industry professionals to attain industry certifications. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has also placed a strong focus on providing early career exploration, which includes virtual job shadowing for all middle school students to help them identify which career pathway they would like to pursue.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools ensures that their career pathways are relevant to the labor market; they will only institute a new career pathway program if it is aligned with local labor market demand, as indicated by the local economic development plan, One Community One Goal. Many M-DCPS schools work with advisory boards made up of business and community leaders to further inform programmatic decisions. Finally, M-DCPS has created a matching system in which students can upload their resumes, once approved by classroom teachers, to be matched with work-based learning activities and compensated internships. These mutually beneficial partnerships ensure that the K-12 education system is sensitive to the needs and demands of the local labor market, ultimately better preparing the students who will be entering it.

The Pathways to Prosperity Network and the career pathways in Miami are only two examples of exciting and innovative work being done across the country to help more students learn the academic, occupational, and employability skills needed in today’s economy and society. AYPF will continue to promote the use of career pathways in policy and practice and look forward to partnering with other interested organizations to do the same.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.