National Partnership Seeks to Scale Innovative Career Pathway Programs

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Members of the Impact Cohort, part of Launch: Equitable & Accelerated Pathways for All, sit at a table.
Members of the Impact Cohort, part of Launch: Equitable & Accelerated Pathways for All, meet for a breakout session during the program’s recent kick off meeting in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Advance CTE)

Over the next two years, leaders in government, industry, and education will work together to create a shared vision of the future of education-to-career pathways that addresses long-standing inequities and ensures sustainability.

The initiative, entitled Launch: Equitable & Accelerated Pathways for All (Launch), is a large-scale national partnership between higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, workforce leaders, and K-12 school districts created to support existing and develop future pathway models that advance education and career opportunities. Launch initiatives emphasize support for economically disadvantaged and historically marginalized communities.

Announced in early February, Launch is led by five nonprofit organizations: Advance CTE, Education Strategy Group (ESG), ExcelinEd, Jobs for the Future, and New America. Eleven geographically diverse states serve as sites for two cohorts, Impact and Innovation.

Improving Existing Pathways

Launch participants represent urban, suburban, and rural communities. The Impact Cohort includes teams in Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington. Innovation Cohort members are in Delaware, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas. Locations in Colorado are involved in both cohorts. 

These states and the communities within them were intentionally selected to ensure that college-to-career pathways are broadly accessible and replicable on a national scale, says Kate Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE.

“We want to demonstrate that these can be scaled and supported in every context, in every geography,” she says. “This is not just for big states or small states, but it’s really a coast-to-coast effort because pathways can and should be scaled and available in every community across this country.”

The Impact Cohort focuses on improving existing pathways for marginalized students by expanding internships and apprenticeships, providing and bolstering personalized advising, and aligning curricula and workforce expectations. A three-month needs assessment is planned to help identify and dismantle systemic barriers to academic completion and access, especially for marginalized and disadvantaged learners. 

Much of the work will focus on breaking down silos between education and workforce systems, says Matt Gandal, president and CEO of ESG. 

“For these systems to really work for the students, they need to be aligned,” he says. “That includes K-12, higher education, and employers in the workforce systems. They need to create smoother transitions, provide clear information, and mutually reinforce goals to enable more students, particularly those who have been traditionally left behind, to benefit and get these opportunities.”

Identifying Barriers and Solutions

The Innovation Cohort will identify systemic barriers and develop forward-thinking solutions to support economic and educational growth. A three-month empathy research and data process will catalog the experiences of students and their families. Using these findings, cohort participants will develop policy that allows equity-focused pathway programs to be scaled on a national level. The cohort will test new funding models, restructure program offerings, and help eliminate inefficiencies among education and workforce partners.

“These pathways have to be responsive to students, leaders, the economy, and communities,” says Kreamer. “Knowing this, we have to consider how we get ahead of the next set of challenges facing us and build those next-generation solutions so we can continue to shore up what we have in place and look ahead to what’s coming next.”

Through both cohorts, the five lead organizations will develop relationships with site supervisors to provide coaching and technical assistance. A key component of the entire initiative is creating bipartisan policy at every level that supports equitable pathway programs and ensures their sustainability. 

Although the complexity and size of the initiative will present challenges, Gandal and Kreamer are confident that the collaborative aspect of Launch will lead to better economic and education opportunities.

“If we’re successful here, what we’re going to show is that working across organizational lines, state and city lines, and even across sectors is harder but much more impactful for our country, because none of us can do this work alone and be successful,” Gandal says.

Launch is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Corporation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

This article was published in our April 2023 issue.