Understanding Integrated Career Pathways

Colleges, states, and the federal government are increasingly focused on career pathway approaches as a strategy for helping more adults acquire marketable skills and credentials. Integrated pathway models are one approach to creating a better-aligned system for providing education and training. 

What Are Integrated Pathway Models?

Unlike traditional, linear models, an integrated model does not make students wait until they finish Adult Basic Education or developmental education before entering a career/technical program. Instead, students learn basic skills and vocational skills at the same time, often in the same course.

14 The Accelerating Opportunity model is based on the I-BEST model developed by the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. In the I-BEST model, a basic skills instructor team-teaches with a vocational skills or career and technical instructor for at least 50 percent of the course. Students also receive comprehensive support services throughout the pathway.

Evidence from the I-BEST evaluations show that integrated pathway models help move students further faster. Compared to students in traditional basic skills programs, I-BEST students are:

  • Three times more likely to earn college credits
  • Nine times more likely to earn a workforce credential

Integrate pathway models improve the overall student experience and increase the chance of success.

What low-skilled, nontraditional students typically face: What students in integrated pathway models experience:
Confusing array of career programs Integrated instructional models, college prep, and career pathways
General education focus as the default for programs and services Programs and services specifically geared to career pathways
Long remedial education sequences Acceleration, compression, and dual-enrollment strategies
Inadequate or inaccessible support services Array of support services, including proactive advising
Programs not designed with career advancement in mind Programs designed around labor market opportunities and needs


Why Develop Integrated Pathway Models?

Developing a system of integrated career pathways at the state or college level is hard work—it requires a major culture shift at all levels. But, as the data demonstrate, the status quo is not working for most adult learners today:

  • The average skill level of U.S. adults falls below the international average on all three areas: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment.
  • 1 in 6 adults has weak literacy skills, and nearly 1 in 3 has weak numeracy skills
  • Nearly 2/3 of low-skilled adults are working, but earn low wages.

By 2018, only 36 percent of total jobs will require workers with just a high school diploma or less; 64% of jobs will require at least some postsecondary education

But right now, 62% of adults 18 or older lack the credentials needed for a family-supporting career:

  • 13% of adults ages 18 and older have less than a high school credential
  • 30% have a high school credential but no college 
  • Another 19% have some college but no degree

Across the country, we need systems strategies that increase basic skill levels AND credential attainment. Integrated pathway models are an evidence-based strategy for helping more adults advance their careers.