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

Learners will only have access to high-quality Pathways programs if the systems that support them are sustainable, scalable, and replicable nationwide. The first critical aspect of a high-quality system is sustained funding; increased federal investment in college and career pathways programs is essential for the long-term development of the nation’s workforce and economy. Another element of an effective system is personnel. Educators play a pivotal role. Policies must be in place for attracting and retaining qualified professionals through pay equity and ongoing professional development. The third facet is data, stressing the importance of comprehensive and nuanced data collection to inform evidence-based practices and address the challenges of decentralized education systems and data privacy. The fourth dimension is accountability. Effective accountability is not merely a bureaucratic requirement but a moral imperative to ensure equity, effectiveness, and public trust. Lastly, system alignment is vital for creating a cohesive educational and workforce ecosystem to maximize societal impact. Together, these elements form a comprehensive framework for creating and maintaining effective college and career pathways systems. Notably, funding and accountability must be embedded into all policies and programs to be effective. 


Increased federal funding in college and career pathways programs is crucial for the long-term development and sustainability of the nation’s workforce and economy. These programs are more than just steppingstones; they are lifelines that can bring equitable opportunities to marginalized communities, stimulate economic growth, and cultivate a more skilled workforce. 

The gaps in educational attainment among various socioeconomic groups are well-documented. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019, the percentage of young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree was 77% for the highest income quartile, compared to 21% for the lowest income quartile.1 College and career pathways programs can help bridge this gap by offering alternative career development and higher education routes. 

Investing in pathways has a multiplier effect on the economy. A report by the Economic Policy Institute notes that public investment in education can lead to increased productivity and higher wages.2,public%20education%20workforce%2C%20and%20it  The country can gain an economic edge on the global stage by nurturing a more skilled and competitive workforce. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of the fastest-growing occupations require a postsecondary  education.3 Career pathways programs often focus on sectors like healthcare, technology, and green energy – industries projected to grow substantially in the coming years. By steering students into these areas, we are not just setting them up for success but preparing the nation for a sustainable future. 

The benefits of college and career pathways extend beyond economics. Higher educational attainment correlates with various social benefits, including increased civic participation, improved health, and lower criminal activity rates.4

The argument for increased funding is not a call for reckless spending but for strategic investment. Federal funding could be tied to program effectiveness, requiring evidence-based strategies for helping students advance through the education-to-career pipeline. Furthermore, well-implemented programs can reduce costs in other social services in the long run, such as unemployment benefits and healthcare. 


Accountability serves two critical purposes: it ensures that learners have high-quality options and drives resources where they are needed most. In the context of federal education pathways, accountability takes on an even more significant role by specifying the entities and programs that must be held accountable to ensure success and equity. It must be embedded throughout each of the strategies, practices, programs, and policies in the pathways system. 

Accountability is not merely a regulatory necessity or bureaucratic requirement; it’s a moral imperative ensuring educational institutions, including colleges, high schools,  employers, state agencies, program grantees, and public officials, deliver on their promises to students, families, and communities. These entities and programs need to be held responsible for their roles in shaping the success of these initiatives. 

Without accountability, it is easy for systemic inequities to persist or worsen. Data collection and analysis are vital for ensuring that pathways are accessible and beneficial to all, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or geography. At each system level, the actors should be accountable for providing equitable access and outcomes. 

Resources are finite, especially in the context of federal programs. Accountability ensures that funds and efforts are directed toward programs and strategies that have been empirically proven effective. There must be precise mechanisms that indicate how well these programs are performing, and the various pathways programs and the implementers must be accountable for demonstrating the effectiveness of their initiatives. Best practices should be highlighted so programs can adapt more readily to maintain and build public trust in the programs that utilize public funds. 

Accountability is the bedrock upon which effective, equitable, and sustainable federal education pathways systems must be built. It’s not merely about compliance but about ensuring that these systems genuinely serve as ladders of opportunity for all. To ignore or minimize accountability is to risk perpetuating systems that serve the interests of a select few while failing to deliver on the broader social promise of education as a pathway to individual and collective prosperity. Holding them accountable is essential to achieving these goals. 


Realizing the full potential of pathways programs requires funding and resources specifically aimed at educators. Our educators are the linchpins who make these programs impactful and transformative for students. Primarily, we must attract and retain qualified and diverse educators and counselors, starting with pay equity.  

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the teacher “wage penalty” has grown significantly over the years, reaching 26.4% in 2022, this wage penalty is the most substantial disparity since 1960 when compared to other professions requiring similar education and experience.5ttps://  Raising salaries would make these educational careers more attractive, drawing in highly qualified individuals who might otherwise opt for better-paying occupations.  

Once they are working with learners, educators and counselors need continued support. Ongoing professional development is necessary to develop pedagogical and subject matter expertise. Educators also need resources and training  to facilitate connections between academic learning and real-world applications. Industry-specific curricula and partnerships with business professionals can be particularly impactful. 

Promising Policy & Programs:

Educational and Professional Development Programs: Various federal grants and initiatives provide funding for the professional development of teachers to improve their skills and stay current with educational best practices. 

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Grants: These grants support the education of children with disabilities, including the training and recruitment of special education teachers. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF): While not exclusively for teachers or counselors, PSLF can be a significant incentive for those entering the field. Educators and counselors who work in public schools and meet other criteria can have their student loans forgiven after 120 qualifying payments, making the professions more financially viable. 

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program: This program provides grants to students who are completing or plan to complete coursework needed to begin a career in teaching. In return, recipients must agree to serve as a full-time teacher in a high-need field in a school serving low-income students for at least four years within eight years of completing their degree. 

Teacher Quality Partnership Grants: Under the Higher Education Act, these grants aim to improve the quality of new teachers by enhancing the preparation they receive at teacher training institutions and by fostering partnerships between these institutions and high-need school districts. 

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): ESSA includes policy and funding opportunities to support educators. 

Title II, Part A: Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants : These grants provide funding to increase student achievement consistent with challenging State academic standards, improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals, and other school leaders, and increase the number of teachers, principals, and other school leaders who are effective in improving student academic achievement in schools. 


There are several critical aspects of designing and implementing effective data systems tailored to pathways. These systems are not just repositories of information; they are dynamic tools essential for shaping the future of education. By focusing on the core components that drive their efficiency and impact, we can better understand how these systems support and enhance the educational journey of every student. Whether it is through comprehensive tracking, alignment with educational goals, or a strong focus on equity and inclusion, each element plays a pivotal role in creating a cohesive and responsive educational landscape. This exploration is not just about the technicalities of data systems but also about their profound role in fostering equitable and effective education for all. 

Longitudinal Data Systems

Effective data systems track a student’s entire educational journey, from early education through K-12 and into postsecondary  education and career pathways. This longitudinal tracking allows for a clearer understanding of the student’s progress and the factors influencing it.

Alignment with Educational Goals  

The data collected and analyzed should align with specific educational goals and standards. This ensures that the data is relevant and useful in guiding decisions that impact student learning and achievement. 

Student-Centered Design  

Data systems should be designed with the student at the center, focusing on individual learning paths and outcomes. This includes tracking academic progress, career and technical education (CTE) pathways, and other relevant student experiences. 

Collaboration and Sharing Capabilities  

Data systems should facilitate collaboration among educators, schools, districts, postsecondary  institutions, and the workforce. Sharing data across these entities can provide a more comprehensive view of a student’s educational experience and needs. 

Data Analysis and Reporting Tools  

Effective data systems provide sophisticated tools for data analysis and reporting. These tools help educators and policymakers identify trends, assess program effectiveness, and make informed decisions about resource allocation and policy changes. 

Equity and Inclusion Focus 

The systems should be designed to identify and address achievement gaps and barriers to equity. This means paying special attention to data disaggregated by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other demographics to ensure all students have access to quality education pathways. 

Privacy and Security Compliance  

Ensuring the confidentiality and security of student data is critical. Systems must comply with legal requirements like FERPA and have robust security measures to protect sensitive information. 

Scalability and Flexibility  

The systems need to be scalable to accommodate growing and changing educational needs, and flexible enough to adapt to new technologies and educational trends. 

User Training and Support 

Educators, administrators, and other stakeholders require ongoing training and support to effectively utilize these data systems. This includes understanding how to interpret data and apply insights to improve educational pathways. 

The development and implementation of effective data systems in education are pivotal for creating pathways that support and enhance student learning. By emphasizing the core components, these systems become instrumental in driving positive educational outcomes. They offer invaluable insights for educators, administrators, employers, and policymakers, aiding in informed decision-making and resource allocation. Ultimately, when they are integrated effectively, data systems transcend their role as mere tools of information management, evolving into catalysts for educational equity, innovation, and success. This exploration underscores the transformative power of well-structured data systems in shaping the future of education pathways.

Promising Policy & Programs:

Advancing Research in Education Act (S. 3392): This bipartisan legislation reauthorizes the Education Sciences Reform Act and modernizes the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems program by extending its purview beyond K-12 to include early childhood and the workforce.  

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): While not specifically focused on college pathways, BLS collects extensive data on employment and industries, which can be used to understand career outcomes for college graduates. 

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Data Collection: Under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, states are required to report on the performance of CTE programs. This data collection effort helps assess the effectiveness of these programs in preparing students for college and careers. 

College Scorecard: Developed by the Department of Education, the College Scorecard provides data on college costs, graduation rates, post-college earnings, and more, helping students and families make informed decisions about college. 

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): As part of the Department of Education, NCES is the primary federal entity responsible for collecting and analyzing data related to education. NCES conducts various surveys and research studies that gather data on postsecondary education and career outcomes. 

Education Longitudinal Study and other longitudinal studies: NCES conducts various longitudinal studies that follow students through their educational and early work experiences, providing valuable data on the transition from high school to higher education and the workforce. 

Rebeca Shackleford

Director of Federal Government Relations

Meet Rebeca