As our education system works to keep pace with the demands of the 21st century workforce, a lack of coordination across policies and insufficient cross-sector alignment has resulted in a disconnect between our education and workforce systems. According to projections, in order to meet future workforce needs and stay economically viable, our country will need to dramatically increase the working-age population earning some sort of high-quality postsecondary credential. At the same time, we are experiencing a “completion crisis” in postsecondary education, in which a staggering portion of students who enroll in some form of postsecondary education leave before earning a credential, leaving them no better off in the labor market than those with a high school diploma. Failure to support students to postsecondary completion or credential attainment disproportionately affects first-generation students, students from low-income families, and students of color. Despite these challenges, examples exist from across the country of innovative and effective ways to work across sectors to support students from K-12 through postsecondary and/or workforce credential attainment.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that all students have access to a well-rounded education that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers. Additionally, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) encourages the development of high-quality career pathways. As Congress looks to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and the Higher Education Act (HEA), it is critical to consider the opportunities to align policies and to encourage coordination across systems and sectors to facilitate the creation of multiple pathways to success for all students. Presenters at this forum shared evidence-based strategies for aligning systems and policies around student and workforce needs, as well as opportunities within policy at various levels to promote structured and supportive pathways to credential attainment.