Table of Contents
State Policy Framework
Strengthening College and Career Pathways Systems Through Guiding Policy and Advocacy Efforts
Today’s youth face an uncertain economic future. Disruptions to their schooling and the labor market are prompting young adults to wonder where they fit within the nation’s rapidly changing social and economic picture, and what paths lead forward.
It will take intentional policy action to close gaps in opportunity in education and employment. Without bold policy and programmatic action, the outlook will be particularly troubling for Black and Latinx youth and young people experiencing poverty because the pandemic exacerbated longstanding educational and economic disparities.
Jobs for the Future (JFF) designed the State Policy Framework for Building Equitable Pathways to inform state policymakers and advocates on how policy can disrupt educational achievement gaps and occupational segregation while realizing the vision of discoverable and durable pathways to upward economic mobility.
We encourage states to use the BEP Policy Assessment Tool as a companion piece to this framework to review existing and proposed policies of their state’s legislative and governing entities to determine the extent to which their state policy environment aligns to the framework and, thus, provides conducive conditions for building equitable pathways.
About the Building Equitable Pathways Community of Practice
JFF developed this framework with input from our Building Equitable Pathways (BEP) Community of Practice, a group of 14 innovative intermediary organizations uniquely well-positioned in their communities to strengthen college and career pathways systems and inform the development of equitable policy conditions. The framework is intended to guide the policy and advocacy efforts of BEP members, as well as those efforts by the broader ecosystem of intermediaries and policy actors concerned about equitable educational and economic opportunities for today’s youth.
Three Pillars for State Policy Action
The State Policy Framework for Building Equitable Pathways covers 12 key state policy issues—from data systems to dual enrollment to regional capacity—that are essential to strengthening pathways and closing equity gaps. The issue areas are organized into three overarching pillars and highlight a mix of levers for policy change. State, local, and systems policy change across all three pillars is necessary to support Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth and close equity gaps.
Every state has more work to do to enhance and center equity across each state policy issue area highlighted in this framework. However, to exemplify how states can affect meaningful improvements, JFF has curated a list of examples of states progressing on each policy issue area.
The three pillars for state policy action:
Pillar 1: Foundational Conditions
Foundational Conditions for Uncovering and Disrupting Educational Achievement Gaps and Occupational Segregation
States need to understand the structural and systemic barriers that disproportionately harm the education and employment prospects of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth and then set measurable goals and accountability mechanisms for closing gaps and improving outcomes. Building a strong statewide infrastructure is key to informing and incentivizing collective action toward improving equitable outcomes across the pathways ecosystems.
Establish an equity-driven strategic plan endorsed by education and workforce agencies that name racial equity as a top policy and performance priority for state agencies and the governor.
Identify and promote in-demand quality jobs, the pathways for attaining these jobs and advancing up a career ladder, and the characteristics of workers in these positions, in order to discover and address areas of occupational segregation.
Align accountability structures and funding models that bolster equitable pathways.
Routinely conduct analysis into students’ education and employment outcomes disaggregated by race, gender, socioeconomic, and geographic level and make findings publicly available.
Pillar 2: Pathways-Friendly Policies
Pathways-Friendly Policies for Advancing Equitable Outcomes
States need education and employment systems that lead to equitable access and success at every stage and transition point along college and career pathways through attainment of a postsecondary credential of value and entry into a career-launching job. Doing so will enable all youth to obtain the knowledge, skills, supports, and relationships they need to advance in today’s economy. Policy levers include greater alignment of secondary and postsecondary curricula and programs of study, integration of high-quality work-based learning experiences, robust support to navigate choices related to college and career, and proactive wraparound supports to alleviate financial barriers.
Map pathways from K-12 to attainment of high-quality postsecondary credentials that launch students into high-demand, high-wage careers.
Close equity gaps in dual and concurrent enrollment so all students may benefit from early college experiences.
Integrate work-based learning experiences in academic and career-technical courses to prepare for college and careers.
Provide all students career coaching and navigational support to strengthen exploration, planning, and a sense of belonging in college and careers.
Alleviate financial hurdles to postsecondary entry, persistence, and completion.
Pillar 3: Ecosystem Enablers
Ecosystem Enablers to Foster Regional Collaboration Toward Racial Equity
States need to foster stronger partnerships among K-12, higher education, business and industry, workforce development, and health and human services at the regional level to develop pathways systems geared toward equitable economic advancement. Policy levers include reforming governance and structures to enable collective action within regions.
Key Terms for Equitable Pathways
College and career pathways enable individuals to progress through an integrated system of academic and technical education experiences starting in K-12 and progressing through postsecondary systems that build upon each other. They result in attaining high-quality postsecondary credentials and lead to further credentials and improved employment prospects.
High-Quality Work-Based Learning: State Policy Recommendations to Build Clearer Paths to Postsecondary Success
State Policy Road Map for an Equitable Economic Recovery
Unlocking Potential: A State Policy Roadmap for Equity and Quality in College in High School Programs
Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship: Principles for High-Quality Apprenticeship
Better Connecting Secondary to Postsecondary Education: Lessons and Policy Recommendations from the Great Lakes
State Policy Framework
Making College Work for Students and the Economy
Self-Assessment and Planning Tool for Youth Apprenticeship Programs
The Big Blur: An Argument for Erasing the Boundaries Between High School, College, and Careers—and Creating One New System That Works for Everyone
No Dead Ends: How Career and Technical Education Can Provide Today’s Youth With Pathways to College and Career Success
Implementing Individual Career and Academic Plans at Scale