Building pathways to college, career success


Career-connected education is a priority at Cañon City High School (CCHS) in rural Colorado. Of the 200 graduates this spring, 90% will graduate with college credit – more than 50 students with 50 credits or more – and six students will graduate with associate degrees.

It provides students with opportunities for career exploration and engagement with employers through paid internships and other work-based experiences. In addition, more than half of staff members have the credentials to serve as adjunct professors with the local community college – Pueblo Community College.

CCHS Principal Bill Summers discussed the impact of career-connected education during a Wednesday webinar hosted by the U.S. Education Department.

ED will be working with education partners, employers and community leaders – as well as with the departments of Commerce and Labor – to grow and strengthen pathways to college and career. This work will build on the proposed investment in career-connected high schools in President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget.

In a recent ED blog post, Senior Advisor Amy Loyd said, “The proposed $200 million investment in Career-Connected High Schools would support competitive grants to grow and build models of this bold vision. Funding would support partnerships between local educational agencies, institutions of higher education — including community colleges — and employers, to support early enrollment in postsecondary and career-connected coursework; work-based learning opportunities; and academic and career counseling across the last two years of high school and the first two years of postsecondary education.”

Creating more on-ramps

During the June 1 webinar, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said it’s time to reimagine pathways for all students. A high school diploma is “no longer a ticket to the middle class,” Cardona said, emphasizing that postsecondary credentials are essential for success.

Career education that starts in the high school can provide students with a “solid on-ramp” to a rewarding career, he added.

“Career education shows students the ‘why’ of their learning by demonstrating the ‘how,” Cardona said.

He called for more work-based learning in the high school, including an expansion of dual-enrollment programs.

Roberto Rodriguez, ED’s assistant secretary of planning, evaluation and policy development, echoed Cardona’s call, saying that, as enrollments decline at colleges, dual enrollment represents a tool to reconnect students with a pathway to college.

Rodriguez also laid out the five core pillars of pathways success:

  • Opportunity to earn college credit early.
  • Work-based learning, so students can gain real-world skills.
  • Industry credentials to give students a “leg up in today’s workforce.”
  • College and career advising and navigation, meaning in addition to college counselors, each high school should have a career counselor.
  • Systems, strategies and capacity building to “blur lines and break down silos” between high school, college and career.

Better outcomes for students

At the Kern Community College District in California, a guided pathways model has the district partnering with high schools to help accelerate students’ time to earn a postsecondary credential, said Chancellor Sonya Christian. The district also teams with industry to ensure that pathways and courses are aligned with employers’ needs.

Christian said all students are provided with career information, advising and navigation through a “high-tech, high-touch” approach.

“We prioritize pathways that lead to more equitable outcomes for all students,” Christian said.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh also appeared on the webinar to announce their agencies’ commitment to growing career-connected education. Raimondo said the pathways initiative supports Commerce’s overarching goal: to improve America’s competitiveness. And Walsh said the pathways initiative will “break down barriers to good jobs.”

He also touted the opportunity to expand pre-apprenticeships and registered apprenticeships, in connection with community colleges. He said apprenticeships are a “powerful tool” that can provide a “pathway to a high-paying career.”

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
Tabitha Whissemore is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.