Pathway programs have emerged as a powerful tool for breaking down barriers and expanding opportunities for underrepresented students in higher education and are a tool used by many HEED Award-winning institutions to create a more accessible and inclusive educational landscape, particularly for students who may face systemic challenges on their journey to college. These programs often involve partnerships and working relationships with other community entities that may offer additional entry points. 

“The success of these pathways relies on the interdependence of diverse stakeholders: students and families, PK-12 education, higher education, business and industry, workforce and economic development, community-based and faith-based organizations, government, and other community leaders,” Amy Loyd, EdLD, assistant secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, wrote in a 2022 blog post.

Despite being similar in their overall goals, pathway programs can differ greatly depending on their objective. For example, some may offer a clear transition from a community college to a four-year university, or a predominantly White medical school may partner with a historically Black institution to increase the diversity of its student body. 

Many programs emphasize a singular field of study or career goal while helping students identify, prepare for, and excel in that given subject, typically through peer and faculty mentorship, skills development, and financial aid opportunities. These efforts have become especially prominent in health professions and STEM fields to address historical racial disparities. 

Pathway programs are also valuable for first-generation students who may be unfamiliar with many of the processes needed to enter a degree program. Having clear guidelines that outline learning requirements are crucial in helping underrepresented students discover and excel in fields of study that align with their career and economic goals, according to the 2021 report, How to Achieve More Equitable Community College Student Outcomes, from the Community College Research Center at the Columbia University Teachers College.

“While colleges and other social institutions need to make many changes to address inequities in educational access and attainment, the central equity focus of guided pathways is ensuring that students who have been poorly served by our education system are supported to explore their interests, gain confidence as college learners, connect with academic and career communities, and plan and complete a high-opportunity program.— one that enables them to secure a good job or transfer to a four-year college in a field of interest upon completion — as efficiently and affordably as possible,” the report reads. 

HEED Award-Winning Strategies

As part of their commitment to DEI principles, 2023 HEED winners like Colorado College (CC), University of Louisville (UofL), Hudson County Community College (HCCC), and Temple University operate robust pathway programs. 

The Stroud Scholars Program at CC offers a developmental program beginning the summer after a student’s first year of high school and ending with a successful transition into CC or another intentionally chosen college or university. For three summers, at no cost to participants, the school hosts students for three weeks. During this time, they focus on cultivating quantitative reasoning and writing skills. They also engage in programming designed to help them prepare for college admissions and financial aid processes.

In support of its pathway initiatives, HCCC recently joined the Racial Equity Leadership Academy (RELA), a collaboration between Achieving the Dream and the University of Southern California. Within this initiative, HCCC has chosen a Racial Equity Change Effort focused on eliminating retention and completion gaps for Black male students. RELA helps institutions develop and implement strategic racial equity plans. Supported by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and a variety of foundations, the institute involves active participation in racial equity modules, coaching support, and the creation of a long-range vision to guide racial equity efforts, all with the goal of increasing student persistence and completion by removing structural barriers to equity.

In 2022, UofL launched its annual Black Business Summit, which allows the university to build relationships with the local business community and create talent pathways for Black students. The mutually beneficial arrangement expands opportunities through internships, apprenticeships, research projects, and community service initiatives. The inaugural summit, which brought in more than 300 guests representing 120 local businesses in numerous industries, is indicative of the university’s larger commitment to having pathway programs, including the creation of 16 career clusters, each of which have several initiatives to help students develop an effective educational plan and achieve their career goals.

The Cecil B. Moore Scholars Program at Temple University empowers public school students from North Philadelphia neighborhoods. Named after the renowned civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore, this program partners with Steppingstone Scholars to provide academic support, advising, mentoring, and full-tuition scholarships. By creating coordinated pre-college preparation, admitting students in cohorts, and offering dual enrollment opportunities, the program provides equitable opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students.

This article was published in our November/December 2023 issue.

Top photo: Nineteen high school seniors from various schools around the Pikes Peak region are the first group to complete the Stroud Scholars college preparatory program at Colorado College, named after two of the first Black students to graduate from the institution in 1931.