Innovation in College & Career Preparation

States Building New Pathways Through Education to Employment

Anna Gatlin, USA FundsBy Anna Gatlin, Senior Director, State Engagement and Relations, USA Funds

To address the chorus of employer complaints that many high school and college graduates lack the skills that businesses need, many states have developed career pathway policies and programs. These career pathway initiatives support a coordinated set of education and training programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials or licenses, with the aim of enhancing students’ career readiness and employability.

During a briefing that USA Funds® recently sponsored with the National Conference of State Legislatures for its Legislative Education Staff Network, experts from the Education Commission of the States and National Skills Coalition described some of the trends and best practices in this area.


Some states have started pilot career pathway programs, such as Utah’s Aerospace Pathways program. Launched in two school districts, this partnership between the aerospace industry, educators and state government offers students the opportunity to graduate from high school with a certificate in aerospace manufacturing.

Other states offer incentives for promoting career pathways. In Kansas, for example, Excel in Career and Technical Education legislation provides school districts with an incentive for each high school student who graduates with an industry-recognized credential in a high-need occupation.

Several states provide funding as well as state or regional structures to promote career pathways. The ECS publication “Aligning K-12 and Postsecondary Career Pathways with Workforce Needs” summarizes these initiatives in 13 states.

State legislative staff at the briefing also heard from representatives of the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor on implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Andrew Hanson of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shared workforce projections and how state legislatures can consider this information in their education and workforce policymaking. And Andrea Zimmerman from the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium discussed in detail how states are defining college- and career-readiness. The organization offers a helpful guide — Making Career Readiness Count — on developing career-readiness indicators.

Presentations from the briefing are available from the National Conference of State Legislatures website.

As USA Funds promotes Completion With a Purpose℠ by improving the connection between success in college and success in career, we recognize the leadership role that many states are playing in adopting innovative practices to ensure students are career-ready. We’re pleased to support forums that share sound and innovative policies for connecting students with careers through business and industry partnership.

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