Little boy running down a road

Opinion

Five Ways to Build Better Pathways

Erin White
While it is tempting to describe a young person’s path to adulthood as a single, linear road, the reality is that all young people do not reach milestones at the same time or in the same way. They begin at different points, with different abilities, interests, and lived experiences.
 
The recent America’s Promise report Our Work took a deep dive into pathways through education and into the workforce, and we discovered that the most effective ones are clear, responsive, and connected.
 
This means that young people need options after high school that are clear, realistic, and attainable; pathways should be flexible and respond to the unique needs of the individual young person; and each stage of a pathway should connect to the expectations and requirements of the next.
 
Here are five ways organizations and systems can put these principles into practice and build better pathways, along with examples of organizations already making an impact.
 

1. Make all available options to learn, work, and serve clear to young people and families.

 
Young people, particularly those growing up in challenging circumstances, may not be exposed to the many options available to them beyond high school. While families often help young people navigate options and make the best choices for themselves and their futures, some youth may need additional navigational support to get a clear picture of their options and prepare for careers.

NAF Educational Academies are small, focused learning communities that bring educators and business leaders together to provide a high school experience that ignites students’ passions and integrates work-based learning into the curriculum.
 
Learn more about NAF in the story, “Why Education and Business Should Work Together.”
 

2. Embed experiential learning, and expose young people to work and postsecondary options.

 
Young people need to better connect what they learn in school with their educational and employment future. Project-based and experiential learning gives young people the chance to practice needed skills and explore their passions, while internships, apprenticeships, and other experiences can expose young people to career and education options.
 
Linked Learning Alliance in California brings together statewide stakeholders to align efforts and create a collective voice around Linked Learning—an approach to high school that integrates rigorous academics with real-world learning opportunities in various industries.
 
 

3. Create connections between organizations and systems that align with different phases of a young person’s education (e.g., K-12 and postsecondary) and employment.

 
As young people transition from K-12 settings into life beyond high school, they need clear and varied options for postsecondary learning. These options may include two- or four-year college degree programs, technical credentials, national service, and other paid opportunities to connect learning and work.
5 Programs that Build Pathways
To & Through Project in Chicago works to increase the number of students who successfully complete college by providing research, data analysis, and training resources to educators, families, and policy-makers. For an in-depth look at this program, see “In Chicago, Smart Use of Data Works to Get More Young People ‘To & Through’ College.”
 
For students of color, the UNCF Career Planning Initiative supports historically black colleges and universities and predominantly black institutions to increase the number of undergraduates who immediately transition to meaningful jobs in their chosen fields. Check out their website here.
 

4. Maintain flexibility through clear entry, exit, and re-entry points.

 
There are currently 5.5 million young people in America who are not in school or at work. Early warning systems and inclusive policies can help prevent young people from getting off track. Multiple, barrier-free on-ramps can help them get back on the right path.
 
Dedicated professionals, including guidance counselors, and quality alternative pathways are important in reconnecting young people, as demonstrated in this Center for Promise report.
 
A great example of how to re-engage disconnected youth is Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) Out of School Program, which serves youth 16-24 who have left the traditional school system, providing them with counseling, skills development, and other supports that help them achieve a stable job or post-secondary enrollment.
 

5. Identify and respond to the many factors that impact a young person’s ability to get and stay on a productive pathway.

 
Public schools serve a more diverse group of young people than ever before, including diversity of language and nation of origin. Many students also come from families without stable housing or income.

These non-academic factors impact academic performance, as highlighted in the new GradNation Action Platform. People, organizations, and systems must continue to recognize the unique needs of each young person, providing supports and personalized learning opportunities as needed.
 
Where should these pathways take young people?  The answer is different for each young person. Perhaps it’s best stated as “to their American dreams.” 
 
From the perspective of organizations who work to support them, however, Karen Pittman from the Forum for Youth Investment offers a perspective: “Readiness for adult life—not just employment or a credential—should be our goal.”
 
This story is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.