Creating Policy Environments That Support Integrated Career Pathways

Published aug. 20, 2014

Integrated career pathways have emerged as a promising strategy for helping academically underprepared individuals to pursue, progress through, and complete the education and training needed to attain industry-recognized credentials and family-supporting jobs. Integrated career pathways incorporate the teaching of basic skills or English as a second language with technical content (e.g., health care, advanced manufacturing, automotive repair) in order to accelerate students’ transitions into and through college-level technical pathways.

Many states across the country are creating or participating in integrated career pathway initiatives to support lower-skilled adults, and the evidence of success is growing. For example, data from Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program shows that students in integrated career pathways outperform students enrolled in traditional adult education programs. For example, I-BEST students are:

  • Three times more likely to earn college credits.
  • Nine times more likely to earn a workforce credential.
  • Employed at double the hours per week (35 hours versus 15 hours).
  • Earning an average of $2,310 more per year than similar adults who did not receive the training.

Jobs for the Future manages Accelerating Opportunity, a national integrated pathways initiative that builds off of the I-BEST model and the Breaking Through initiative, that is working with 7 states—Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi—and 78 community colleges to develop and implement integrated career pathways in a variety of different industry sectors. Data from Accelerating Opportunity is equally promising. For example, early findings from Kentucky show that Accelerating Opportunity students earn a credential in their first semester at nearly five times the rate of their peers in equivalent, non-integrated, postsecondary technical programs.  

Accelerating Opportunity includes a strong policy component that seeks to change policies in ways that both support the development and implementation of integrated career pathways and spread the learning and ideas stemming from the initiative to additional states and colleges. State, system and institutional policy play a critical role in supporting the attainment of credentials and degrees for adult education students. States can create policy conditions that encourage the identification, dissemination, and implementation of strategies that improve credential attainment and jobs for our nation’s most underprepared adult learners.

Accelerating Opportunity relies on strong policy supports at both the state and local levels to be successful. Examples of state polices to support integrated pathways programs and the students enrolled in them include dedicated tuition funds for students without a high school diploma, placement and assessment policies to allow co-enrollment in technical and ABE programs, and setting system-level performance goals to include postsecondary performance and job retention for ABE students. At the local level, colleges and ABE providers have changed policies to allow alternative high school credential seekers to enroll in college-level classes, and have given these students full access to the college’s student support services.

Each of the Accelerating Opportunity states have identified a group of high-impact policy levers that they believe will further accelerate, support, scale up, and sustain their integrated pathway programs. This posting is the first in a series of blogs describing these policy efforts, as well as similar efforts outside the group of states, that have the potential to greatly improve the academic and job success for adult education students.