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Why Pathways Matter

America’s Promise

Track, route, course, direction—these are some of the words you could use instead of pathway. But when we talk about pathways in the education and youth development sectors, the term takes on a deeper meaning.

For instance, when America’s Promise talks about pathways, we’re often talking about the experiences, programs, or initiatives that help prepare young people for life after high school—often while they’re still in it.

Since pathways are a key part of our GradNation Action Platform, and because it’s a term we use quite a lot, we think it’s worth exploring a little more.

Where should a pathway take a young person?

Though we’ve long championed the importance of getting a high school diploma, we know that high school graduation is not the end goal. It’s simply the first step on the path toward adult success.

But high school students often don’t know what that next step should be or that there are a variety of options available to them, which is where pathways come in. One set of pathways includes college credit programs like AP, IB, and dual enrollment courses, along with internships and  afterschool programs. All of these experiences can expose students to aspects of life after high school.

Related story: Five Ways to Build Better Pathways.
Related story: Five Ways to Build Better Pathways.

Pathways can also extend to trade schools, the military, apprenticeships, national service, or other programs that provide young people with the training and skills necessary to enter and grow in the workforce. Many of these programs work with the industries and employers ready to hire young people to ensure the training matches their needs.

Whatever shape it takes and however long it lasts, a pathway should give students an idea of what life can look like after they graduate, often giving them this glimpse while they’re still in school. Ultimately, it should lead them down a path that prepares them to participate fully in the economy and in their communities.

What’s an example of a pathway program?

In California, the Linked Learning initiative gives students real-world experience while they’re still in high school. UNITE-LA is a Linked Learning program that provides 11th graders from South Los Angeles opportunities to explore careers in the health care industry. Students from low-income, predominantly Hispanic areas in Los Angeles get paid summer internships with a local health care institution.

This United Way program in Boston helps high school juniors launch their own business ventures, pairing them with professional mentors in tech, financial service, and the medical industry.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has launched an interactive web tool for students in Colorado, Tennessee, and Texas called Launch My Career that teaches them about the return on investment on a certificate or degree they might be considering. Tools like this can help young people to navigate their postsecondary options.

A pathway program could also help students who never got their diplomas turn their life around, like this tech-training program in New York that trains young adults for jobs in the technology sector.

In today’s economy, these kinds of pathways are more necessary than ever.

Why Pathways Matter

As we mentioned, a high school diploma is often no longer enough to prepare young people for the work force. And increasingly, even going to college doesn’t always guarantee graduates will get a full-time job.

In today’s rapidly changing economy, pathways opportunities provide young people with the vision, experiences, and skills they need to be successful in life. Students are also more engaged in their coursework if it’s connected to things they might do in their career.

So not only do pathways increase the odds of being successful after high school graduation, they make it more likely that young people will reach the stage in the first place.

Though pathways can often look pretty different, one thing remains the same: They work best when they work in partnership. Pathways require formal partnerships with the business, university, and nonprofit communities. So whatever route students go down, pathways programs should make sure they’re not taking it alone.

For more stories like this one, check out ESL, ELL, or FLNE? How to Describe Students Whose First Language Isn’t English. Learn even more about pathways on our GradNation Action Platform.