Selecting Pathways for Integration

Selecting an appropriate pathway for implementing an integrated model is a big decision: not all programs and credentials are well-suited to an integrated model, although many can be adapted to work as integrated pathways. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when selecting new pathways for expansion.

Is there labor market demand?

All pathways must be aligned with labor market demand. Before expanding into a new pathway, determine whether there are adequate employment opportunities within the local economy to support an influx of more skilled workers. Look at the data and talk with employers to assess what they need. What jobs are going unfilled currently? Developing integrated career pathway programs brings a new community of learners to the program and to the college, and assists local employers in filling their skills gap. 

See Using Labor Market Data for more details on how to assess labor market demand.

Do the targeted credentials lead to family-supporting wages?

In addition to being in demand, the targeted credentials must lead to jobs with family-supporting wages and room for advancement; the goal is to provide students with both short- and long-term economic opportunity. The definition of a family-supporting wage varies across the country depending on cost of living and number of dependents, but there are some good tools to help you assess whether a pathway leads to the right kind of careers:

Is there student interest?

We suggest learning from students what pathways they are interested in and examining whether those would be a good fit, and whether there is enough student interest to warrant developing an integrated pathway. If there is not sufficient student interest in a specific credential or pathway, one option to consider is an integrated introductory pathway that leads into multiple latticed programs. For example, an integrated career pathway program could focus on the common core of courses among health care programs (science, medical terminology, etc.). Upon completion of the program, learners will have multiple career pathways to pursue. If you do decide to take this approach, it is essential to work with faculty in all the different healthcare pathways to ensure that students are adequately prepared for whatever option they select.

Is there room to enroll more ABE students?   

For the most part, technical programs that are fulfilling local employment needs are close to capacity with regards to student enrollment. Programs that already have wait lists may not be the best option for a new integrated pathway. Look to programs that are not fully enrolled and find out from employers where more graduates are needed.

Does the proposed pathway fit with an integrated model?

Not all programs are suitable for integration with basic skill education—two major areas to consider are whether the target credential is part of a longer pathway and whether the first segment of the pathway is long enough to allow for substantial educational gains.

Too short: Some shorter terms credentials may be in demand, and even lead to good wages, but if they are not part of a longer pathway they do not offer the kind of long-term advancement opportunities that are so critical to the model. Integrated models aim to build students’ college readiness while getting them onto a career pathway with room for advancement. As such, students still need to be engaged for a sufficient period of time so that they are able to build their skill levels to the point that they can transition into higher-level credit programs without the need for developmental education. Colleges can consider repackaging and bundling some of these shorter-term credentials so that they become part of a longer pathway with multiple stackable credentials.

Too long: Other programs require 30 or more credit hours before awarding the first credential. If this is the case, college leadership and faculty along with the program advisory board should assess the current pathway to determine if the program can be a) broken down into smaller chunks and b) redesigned to include entry-level credentials that lead to employment and can also be integrated with basic literacy development.

Is the pathway a good fit for underprepared learners?

When selecting a new pathway, it’s important to assess the academic rigor and preparation that the pathway requires. Even in an integrated model, the introductory classes need to start at a level that allows students to be successful. For example, if the introductory class includes significant amounts of higher-level math, it may not be a good fit for an integrated model without the addition of an introductory bridge program.

Assessing whether a pathway is a good fit should be done as a partnership between the career and technical education faculty and the basic skills faculty. The CTE and ABE deans’ roles are to facilitate a discussion and assessment of the literacy skill levels at the onset and along the career pathway. ABE faculty in partnership with the CTE faculty should determine: what literacy skill levels (math, reading, writing and communication) must the learner have to enter into an integrated career pathway program? What literacy skill levels should they possess when exiting? Will students be able to advance their academic skills enough to successfully transition to the next level?

Is there departmental interest?

Make sure that faculty and deans understand the model and are open to and excited about participating. Not all faculty are interested in team teaching and developing integrated career pathways. Additionally, most technical faculty are working at capacity—they carry full academic workloads, they advise students, and they work with local advisory committees. Thus, the dean plays the crucial role of integrated career pathways champion. The dean must convey that an integrated pathways approach is important for the college and the department. 

Identifying the right faculty is paramount. Putting together faculty in teaching teams is like arranging a marriage. They should be quality faculty who are innovative and willing to test new pedagogy. They cannot be faculty who consider themselves “the sage on the stage.”  They need to be compatible and they need planning time together. Thus, the dean needs to look to all of their financial resources to appropriately compensate the faculty for the extra and innovative work.