Pipeline Programs: How They Contribute to College and Career-Readiness and Success


Jennifer Brown Lerner, Deputy Director

Aiming to demystifying what it means to go to and be in college, pipeline programs are a critical part of a college’s outreach and inclusion strategies. Pipeline programs encompass the range of activities at an institution of higher education which provide secondary students the opportunity to experience college. These include exposure activities such as camps or visits for secondary students, accelerated learning opportunities, partnerships with school districts, and training programs.

On Wednesday, I will be delivering the keynote address at East Carolina University’s Diversity Seminar entitled “The Power of Pipeline Programs.” As this is a topic that I often speak on, I began to pull my presentation together focused on the key elements of pipeline programs*, but given this event is sponsored by ECU’s Office of Equity and Diversity, I began to think about how pipeline programs contribute to an institution’s diversity. No matter what form they take, pipeline programs create opportunities for all students, but particularly target populations such as low-income and first-generation college goers, to gain the comprehensive set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that truly encompass what it means to be college and career ready: academic knowledge, technical skills, and soft skills.

Academic Knowledge

Pipeline programs provide early exposure to college content and offer transcripted credit through dual and/or concurrent enrollment courses. For pipeline programs that provide exposure for elementary and middle school students, partnerships between K12 and higher education faculty can backmap academic content so that students will be working towards the necessary academic proficiencies to be successful in college-level coursework. Of course, dual and/or concurrent enrollment courses offer the opportunity for students to take college courses, thus getting the same academic knowledge offered to college students.

“College Know How” Skills

Skills needed to access college are often referred to as “college knowledge.” While some pipeline programs offer specific workforce training or certificates, all pipeline programs offer key technical skills to access and be successful in college. Many offer guidance on the college application and financial aid process (e.g. GEAR UP), yet all offer the opportunity to learn how to navigate college courses or a college campus. I believe college knowledge is a set of technical skills that we must provide training for, particularly for students who are first in their family to attend college. For these young people, they lack someone in their family who can provide the training at home and pipeline programs can fill this gap.

In addition, pipeline programs provide critical college success skills such as note taking, study skills, navigating the physical campus as well as learning the bureaucracy of institutions of higher education (students might need to get three signatures before they can register for classes online!). Through providing genuine college experiences, pipeline programs are critical to providing the wide range of technical skills necessary for students to access and succeed in college.

Soft Skills

Pipeline programs afford secondary students the unique opportunity to experience college in a supported environment, but still require students to take ownership of their learning and demonstrate self-efficacy. By asking students to work collaboratively and solve problems, pipeline programs also equip students with the range of skills that employers are looking for in addition to the academic and technical skills.

In the past, when I focused just on the elements that make a successful pipeline program, I have often emphasized these opportunities as mechanisms for academically preparing students to be successful by creating a supported transition. Considering pipeline programs through the lens of diversity made me realize that I need to explicitly acknowledge the range of academic, technical, and soft skills students gain through participation and that the supported transition aspect of these programs is equally as valuable as the academic experience that students are gaining.

I plan on asking the audience to share their thoughts via Twitter using the hashtag #aypfevents and hope you’ll tune in to see their reactions to my presentation.

 Jennifer Brown Lerner is Deputy Director of the American Youth Policy Forum.



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.