Momentum to Carry Us Into A New Year

Every year, rather than setting a New Year’s resolution, Melinda Gates chooses a “word of the year” to encapsulate her aspirations for the twelve months ahead. I think it’s a great way to distill what you’re truly aiming for, and I’ve found that it also works in reflecting back on the year you’ve just had.

When I look back on 2022, the word that comes to my mind is momentum. As 2022 winds down, I feel encouraged and excited by the momentum being created by Pathways partner organizations and field leaders across the country. So many of you, across so many states and regions, are working tirelessly and creatively to ensure all students to have access to comprehensive, coherent education pathways that connect high school, college, and employment. From our perspective at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it feels like the field is shifting from talking about the concept of offering young people multiple, high-quality pathways to credentials and careers to actually building them at increasing scale.

Let me share just a few snapshots of this momentum I’m seeing across the country. This year, the Catalyze Challenge, a national initiative supported by a variety of funders to accelerate the creation of seamless pathways from education to careers, awarded over $5 million to 25 organizations across the country ranging from community organizations, entrepreneurs, and employers. All of the awardees submitted innovative ideas to design, launch, and bring to scale solutions that create bridges between classrooms and meaningful careers and help more young people—especially Black, Latino, and Indigenous young people, and young people from low-income and/or rural areas, to achieve economic mobility.

Here’s another one: as part of the American Rescue Plan, the Good Jobs Challenge awarded 32 industry-led workforce training partnerships that focus on creating training and placing people in well-paying jobs while working to ensure inclusive economic growth. One of the awardees under the Good Jobs Challenge, the Washington Student Achievement Council, is a lead partner in an initiative supported by the Gates Foundation called Career Connect Washington. This initiative brings together some of the state’s biggest employers to create more job opportunities in in-demand sectors such as healthcare and advanced manufacturing for the people and communities that need them most.

Also happening in the foundation’s backyard of Washington state is the partnership between Yakima School District and Arizona State University to pilot a dual-credit option that will allow students to graduate high school with a diploma and an associate degree without ever having to leave campus. These types of programs are exactly the type we’re trying to scale through our Accelerate ED initiative, which you can read more about in this month’s newsletter.

Several states also took important policy action to expand funding and increase equitable access to dual enrollment programs and increase FAFSA completion as part of comprehensive college advising. For example:

I hope you are feeling as energized by this type of momentum as I am. We are excited to work with partners to build on the momentum of the field in 2023, to continue to showcase great work, and to demonstrate what’s possible when we connect innovators around a common objective of making the promise of education and employment pathways real for young people across the country.

In partnership,
Sara Allan

In this issue of Wayfinders: We are focusing our features on three of the design teams that are part of the Accelerate ED: Seamless Pathways to Degrees and Careers Initiative. Accelerate ED granted 12 design teams across the country to create accelerated pathways for young people to graduate from high school and earn an associate degree within one additional year. The design teams are comprised of leaders from K-12 systems, youth-focused community organizations, employers, and higher education. Their efforts will ensure that more young people receive support and guidance that will enable them to get an early start on their career aspirations or pursue further educational opportunities. You can find out more about these forward-thinking design teams here.

Accelerate ED: Texas Spotlight

The Texas design team is working to ensure that Texas’ students, especially those from low-income communities and communities of color, are able to more easily access postsecondary opportunities. To help students overcome the barriers they face in getting to and through higher education, the team is working to scale the existing 13th year model in Texas so that more students are able to graduate from high school with a substantial number of credits towards a postsecondary degree.

The Texas design team is also going the extra distance to engage directly with students to hear their thoughts about the opportunities and challenges to accessing more postsecondary options. Through this engagement the team has been able to pinpoint the many factors that influence students’ postsecondary decisions, such as awareness of their options, understanding of the application and enrollment processes, and more. You can read more about the Texas design team and watch a video here. Learn more about how Accelerate ED is leading Students to Better Jobs, building A Better Path between K-12, College, and Work and creating Postsecondary Opportunities for students.

Accelerate ED Spotlight: California and Kentucky

One of the prerequisites to scaling up pathways for more young people of color and young people from low-income backgrounds is gaining a deeper understanding of the myriad and often systemic barriers faced by these groups of young people. As part of their participation in the Accelerate ED initiative, all 12 design teams conducted student empathy interviews, which ended up capturing a sample that represented various geographies, population sizes, and local cultures to highlight important commonalities and challenges faced by students. Design teams from California and Kentucky identified similar challenges and shared themes from their assessments such as: seemingly “small” barriers, such as a lack of reliable transportation, can actually end up derailing students’ pathways, and leaders and educators can do more to foster a sense of “belonging” for students in academic environments that are new to them. You can read more about what the California and Kentucky teams learned and watch a video about their insights here.

What We’re Reading: