Raise the Bar: Postsecondary and Career Pathways

Raise the Bar: Postsecondary and Career Pathways

Goal: Ensure every student has an onramp to postsecondary education and training, including by establishing and scaling innovative systems of college and career pathways that integrate high schools, colleges, careers, and communities and lead to students earning industry-recognized credentials and securing in-demand jobs.

The Problem

Raise the Bar


Today, most good jobs—those that provide a living wage—require some form of career-connected postsecondary education and training. And by 2027, 70 percent of jobs will require education or training beyond high school. Our country must dramatically increase the number of Americans who possess a postsecondary credential. And we must connect our education and workforce systems to expand and create new opportunities for all students to engage in innovative and equitable pathways that propel them to rewarding futures.

Our Strategies

The Department is committed to working with state and local leaders to ensure every student has an onramp to college and to good jobs by reimagining how our nation’s high schools prepare all students to succeed and by providing students with accelerated and innovative opportunities to earn college credits and gain real-world professional experiences. Robust investments and strategic action in the areas below represent the four key levers to providing all students with pathways to high-quality postsecondary education and training.

Raise the Bar: Unlocking Career Success:

The Unlocking Career Success interagency initiative aims to reimagine how our nation's high schools prepare all students to thrive in their future careers by blurring the lines between elementary and secondary education, college, and careers.

The Department of Education is partnering with the White House and the Departments of Labor and Commerce to engage and mobilize employers and build strong education-to-employment strategies, policies, and programs aligned to regional economic needs.

Additionally, the Department of Education is working to build the capacity of leaders in the field to create innovative pathways and partnerships through case studies, communities of practice, summits, and an actionable playbook and suite of resources.

Dual Enrollment:

The Department supports dual enrollment opportunities, which allow high school students to take a college course and earn both high school and college credit. Dual enrollment is a proven, evidence-based strategy to increase high school achievement and completion and to boost postsecondary enrollment and credential attainment.

States and districts are using resources from the American Rescue Plan's (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency (ESSER) Fund to expand access to and participation in dual enrollment programs, particularly for students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Work-Based Learning:

To ensure more students can benefit from opportunities that connect academic learning to real-world applications and be exposed to different career fields, the Department aims to expand access to work-based learning programs and initiatives. Work-based learning is an evidence-based approach that also helps young people generate income, establish future earning potential, and connect with professionals in the labor market.

See the infographic below, which shows the percentage of career and technical education (CTE) concentrators that participated in work-based learning activities during the 2021-2022 academic year in the 28 states that report this data as part of accountability under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, also known as Perkins V legislation. This bipartisan measure reauthorized the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, otherwise known as Perkins IV, and continued Congress’ commitment to providing nearly $1.4 billion annually for CTE programs for our nation’s youth and adults.

Work-based Learning Participation
(download data as a spreadsheet)

To help create new and enhance existing high-quality work-based learning programs, the Department also is participating in the Career Z Challenge. Eligible participants are engaging in a collaborative ecosystem of educators, businesses, industry partners, workforce leaders, and community stakeholders to provide students with interconnected career development opportunities all over the country.

Workforce Credentials:

Education programs that incorporate the opportunity to earn an industry-sought credential can give young people a leg up in the labor market when they graduate from high school. Through the use of ARP ESSER funds, the Department of Education is helping states and districts to identify workforce credentials that have value in the labor market, expand opportunities for students to earn these credentials, and eliminate barriers to credential attainment.

Career Advising and Navigation:

At the Department, we believe that every young person should leave high school with clear career goals and the knowledge and resources needed to pursue them. Getting there requires the help and support of adults.

That is why the Department is working to increase access to career advising and navigation programs that provide students with information about career exploration and planning; offer insights about financial aid for college, job training, and other postsecondary options; and provide supports for students to persist in and complete CTE programs or paths of study.

At the Department, we also recognize that providing robust pre-employment transition support for students with disabilities is critical to ensuring an inclusive and accessible educational experience and a successful onramp to the workforce. This assistance helps students navigate potential challenges, access necessary resources, and establish connections within the academic and workforce communities, fostering a strong foundation for success. By addressing the specific needs of students with disabilities proactively, we can promote equal opportunities and empower all students to thrive in their educational and work-life journeys.

The data visualization below shows the percent of vocational rehabilitation funding that was expended on pre-employment transition services by each state. States are required to direct 15 percent of their federal allotment of vocational rehabilitation funds to pre-employment transition services.

Pre-Employment Transition Services for Students with Disabilities

Sampling of ARP Funding Highlights:

  • The Department of Education issued a call to action to expand access to college and career pathways and published a fact sheet and other resources to help educators and leaders in the field use ARP funds to reengage students and enhance learning through CTE.
  • The Department also released a Dear Colleague Letter to help the field use ARP funds to provide students with opportunities to engage in dual enrollment and work-based learning, earn workforce credentials, and participate in career advising and navigation.
  • Through webinars and blogs devoted to student engagementcareer pathwaysstate and local leadership, and dual enrollment the Department also is assisting states and districts in learning more about how they can use federal funds to expand access to these opportunities for all students.

Grants and Resources:

  • To capture the ways in which the Department is working to ensure every student has a strong onramp to college and careers, the agency released an Unlocking Career Success one-pager with links to federal resources and grants.
  • Through a new $25 million grant program for Career-Connected High Schools, the Department aims to launch partnerships that blur the lines between high school, college, and careers through dual enrollment, workforce credentials, work-based learning, and career advising and navigation. As part of the Department's Unlocking Career Success Initiative, this program will help put all students on powerful and rewarding pathways to their futures.   
  • The Your Place in Space Challenge is helping to create engaging learning opportunities for students to connect CTE programs with a wide variety of space careers; explore the challenges and opportunities of space missions; and inspire students to envision and pursue space careers.