Pathways to Prosperity Levers

Secondary-Postsecondary Integration

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What It Is

  • Secondary-postsecondary integration erases boundaries between K-12 and postsecondary institutions and systems. Aligning curricula, credits, funding, policies, and practices enables more students to advance seamlessly from K-12 to and through higher education.
  • Developing pathways is an essential strategy for achieving secondary-postsecondary integration across institutions and systems—and eliminating the barriers that stop many students from entering and succeeding in college.
  • College and career pathways include a distinct sequence of high school and college courses, starting in grade 9, that incorporates both rigorous core academics and career-focused learning and leads to a postsecondary credential for a high-demand, high-wage career.
  • Career pathways offer substantial college coursework to high school students—for credit and tuition free—through dual enrollment. Alignment to high-wage, high-demand careers in regional labor markets is a core feature of pathway design, which begins with employers identifying in-demand skills and credentials to be incorporated throughout the pathway.

Why It Matters

  • Pathways address significant inequity in access to family-supporting careers.
  • Many young people, especially students of color and students from low-income households, lack the necessary support to successfully transition from secondary to postsecondary education and complete postsecondary degrees and credentials. This places them at a substantial disadvantage in the job market because most jobs that pay a living wage require postsecondary credentials.
  • Research shows that participation in dual enrollment leads to greater educational success—in high school academic achievement, graduation, credit accumulation, and college entry, persistence, and completion. Accruing college credit in high school reduces the amount of time it takes to earn a degree and lowers the cost of college.
  • Pathways aligned with labor market demand meet the needs of both students and employers. Students gain skills and credentials that lead to family-supporting careers, while employers expand their talent pipelines.

What It Looks Like

  • Pathways expand college and career options for students. They prepare students for a range of postsecondary credentials—including certifications, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees—while providing opportunities to learn about careers and build in-demand skills.
  • Pathways span secondary and postsecondary education, include all requirements for a high school diploma and a postsecondary credential, and have clear structures, timelines, costs, and student requirements.
  • Course sequences are designed by K-12 and college partners to ensure what students learn in one course prepares them for the next. Partners also help students meet the demands of college coursework while completing high school graduation requirements.
  • The range of available postsecondary credentials embedded in pathways creates easy-to-navigate on-ramps and off-ramps for students, allowing them to compete in the labor market while pursuing further education according to their interests and career goals.
  • Students have the opportunity to earn at least 12 college credits for free by taking dual enrollment courses.

What Roles Partners Play

  • Secondary and postsecondary educators collaborate on designing career pathways that incorporate dual enrollment opportunities and equip students with skills and knowledge that are in demand in the regional labor market. Educators must also partner to create funding structures, institutional agreements, and policies to support pathway completion.
  • Employers and industry associations identify the credentials needed to meet their talent needs and define entry-level professional and technical skills and competencies that are reflected in K-12 and postsecondary curricula.
  • Intermediaries support collaboration across secondary and postsecondary education and education and industry, including developing a process that engages both educators and employers in identifying in-demand competencies and updating pathways to meet the needs of evolving regional labor markets.

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Pathways to Prosperity Levers