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PATHWAYS TO PROSPERITY: New Report Examines How Eight States Use Work-Based Learning to Prepare High School Students for the Workforce

“The states we are working with are committed to destroying once and for all the old notion that some kids need to be prepared for college while others are being prepared for careers,” said Robert Schwartz, professor emeritus at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

At a time when millions of young people are either unemployed, underemployed, or under educated, the need to increase their value in the job market is ever growing. In an effort to better prepare students for the postsecondary education world of jobs, several states have created programs in collaboration with local businesses and high schools to illustrate the importance of applied, work-based learning in high schools and two-year technical degrees.

The Pathways to Prosperity Network: A State Progress Report, 2012–2014, a report released on July 1 by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Jobs for the Future (JFF) highlights the work of eight states—California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee—to provide middle and high school students with a systematic and sustained approach that will, according to the report, “lead to a postsecondary credential with value in the labor market.” Two more states, Arizona and Delaware, joined the pathways network in June 2014.

“The states we are working with are committed to destroying once and for all the old notion that some kids need to be prepared for college while others are being prepared for careers,” said Robert Schwartz, professor emeritus at Harvard Graduate School of Education who helps to lead the pathways network with colleagues at JFF. “In the twenty-first century, all young people need to be prepared both for some form of further education and a career. The pathways network is especially focused on helping states build out robust career pathways that span grades 9–14 and provide young people with a strong academic foundation and a solid core of technical skills that can enable them to get started in a high-demand, high-growth field.”

In New York, students at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) graduate with both a diploma and an associate’s degree in a field related to computers or engineering. The school, developed through a partnership between IBM and the City University of New York, was highlighted by President Obama in last year’s State of the Union address. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo committed $28 million to support statewide replication of the P-TECH model. In Tennessee, high school graduates who attend a community college or college of applied technology now receive financial assistance through Tennessee Promise, a program with the goal of graduating 500,000 more Tennesseans with a two-year or technical degree.

According to the report, state-level educators involved in establishing programs focus on the three growth areas of the economy consistently identified as the best for young people with a two-year degree seeking entry-level positions: (1) health care, (2) information technology (IT) and computer science, and (3) advanced manufacturing and pre-engineering.

Although IT skills are required for most jobs today, only twenty-two states accept computer science to meet a school math or science graduation requirement, the report notes. But through the pathways program, initiatives such as Chicago’s five early college Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) schools are not only giving students credit for computer-based learning, they are also connecting students with technology companies in their communities that could easily turn into long-term job opportunities.

“Our work in states is demonstrating that educators themselves need to know far more about the labor market,” said Nancy Hoffman, vice president and senior advisor at JFF. “States also are recognizing that it is crucial to have workforce intermediary organizations with expertise that can help bridge the gap between employers and educators and scale up workplace learning opportunities for young people.”

The pathways network grew out of a 2011 report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education calling for greater attention on building career pathways. Founders of the Pathways initiative argue that while there are currently programs in place that aim to increase a students’ job market skills, no such programs exist across a school district. With youth unemployment at its lowest since the 1930s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the report offers several policy actions that are crucial to developing these career pipelines:

  • Encourage better coordination of resources across state agencies to provide funding for scale up of Pathways programs.
  • Support acceleration of learning through dual enrollment/dual credit.
  • Better integrate academic and career and technical education programs, and elevate the profile of these programs as a means to develop crucial STEM skills.
  • Expand the mission and purview of workforce development organizations and other economic development nonprofits.
  • Establish more robust career information and advising systems linking online resources and appropriate counseling from teachers, mentors, and others through student work-based learning plans.
  • Develop policies that incentivize business involvement and work-based learning.

The Pathways to Prosperity Network: A State Progress Report, 2012–2014 is available at

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