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System Alignment 

This pillar is a part of the Pathways to Progress: A Federal Roadmap for College and Career Pathways.

The effectiveness of college and career pathways systems hinges not only on the quality of unique programs but also on how well these programs are aligned within a broader educational and workforce ecosystem. Alignment across K-12, higher education, and the labor market is crucial to creating a coherent and efficient pathway for students. System alignment ensures equitable access, improves outcomes, and maximizes societal impact. 

System alignment refers to the strategic coordination and synchronization of various components within the holistic pathways system to ensure that they work together seamlessly to benefit students and society as a whole. This alignment involves harmonizing policies, practices, and structures across different educational levels – from high schools to institutions of higher education – as well as with the needs of the labor market. Federal policy could provide states with incentives to strengthen system alignment in many areas, including the following:   

Graduation Pathways

Students in thirteen states choose between a college-preparatory pathway and a career pathway—a choice that may limit the options available to them after high school.1  Instead, all high school graduation pathways must be aligned with the requirements for entry into credit-bearing coursework in higher education without remediation, whether or not the student plans to attend college. Aligning graduation pathways is about creating a well-defined roadmap for students that connects their K-12 education to postsecondary  opportunities. This alignment ensures that students have clear options that match their interests and career goals. 

Furthermore, system alignment in graduation pathways should consider the evolving needs of the job market. Periodic assessments of workforce demands can inform the development of new pathways or the adjustment of existing ones. It is essential to maintain flexibility in these pathways, allowing students to switch between them if their goals change or if they discover new interests along the way. 

Graduation Requirements 

Aligning graduation requirements means ensuring that the courses and credits needed for graduation are in harmony with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in today’s rapidly changing world. This alignment goes beyond traditional academic subjects and can encompass digital literacy, financial literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. 

Additionally, the alignment of graduation requirements should consider the diverse needs of students. Personalized learning plans can be a part of this strategy, allowing students to pursue their interests and strengths while still meeting essential requirements. This approach acknowledges that not all students have the same path to success and ensures that their unique talents are nurtured and utilized. 

Accountability Systems 

Aligning accountability systems involves creating a comprehensive framework that measures educational success from K-12 through postsecondary education and into the workforce. To promote alignment, accountability measures should not only focus on test scores, but also include indicators of postsecondary and career readiness and success. Today, only four states include measures of postsecondary outcomes in their K-12 accountability systems.2 This could include tracking college enrollment, persistence, and completion rates, as well as employment outcomes and earnings after graduation. 

Moreover, accountability systems should consider the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. Schools and districts that serve systemically marginalized communities may require additional support to ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality educational pathways. By incorporating equity measures into accountability systems, we can address disparities in educational outcomes. 

Credit Transfer

The alignment of credit transfer policies is crucial for facilitating students’ seamless transitions between educational institutions. An estimated 43% of credits are lost due to transfer from one institution to another.3 This involves standardizing articulation agreements, recognizing equivalent coursework, and establishing transfer pathways between community colleges and four-year institutions. Institutions can work together to create transfer-friendly policies that minimize the loss of credits during transitions. 

Furthermore, technology can play a role in improving credit transfer. Digital credentials and electronic transcripts can streamline the process, making it easier for students to share their academic records and ensuring that credits are accurately assessed and accepted across institutions.

System alignment is a multifaceted approach that requires a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of educational and workforce systems. By aligning graduation pathways, requirements, accountability systems, and credit transfer policies, we can create a more flexible, equitable, and efficient educational and career pathway for students, ultimately preparing them for success in the 21st-century workforce. This alignment should be an ongoing process, adapting to changing needs and innovations to ensure that our education systems remain relevant and effective. 

Promising Policy & Programs:

Fast Track To And Through College Act (S.1719 (117th Congress): This bipartisan measure aims to increase college completion and reduce college costs. States receiving funds under the legislation would be required to implement several policies to increase alignment between high school and higher education.  

Promoting Readiness in Education to Prevent Additional Remediation and Expense (PREPARE) Act (S. 1516, 116th Congress): This bill aims to more closely align high school education to the expectations of postsecondary education to reduce postsecondary remediation rates.4  

Rebeca Shackleford

Director of Federal Government Relations

Meet Rebeca