Strengthening career pathways for working students: Gateway to Careers Act will help students overcome barriers to postsecondary education

By Katie Brown, April 10, 2019

In today’s economy, 80 percent of jobs require some form of postsecondary education and training, yet students, especially nontraditional students, often face barriers to higher education due to a lack of vital support services—including basic skills instruction, transportation and childcare and comprehensive career counseling.

To help meet the needs of these students, community and technical colleges along with their industry partners have been working to establish and strengthen career pathways—21st century learning models that combine support services with academic instruction. NSC has long supported investing in postsecondary career pathways and have highlighted them as part of our Skills for Good Jobs Agenda. Additionally, 10 state higher education systems have endorsed increasing federal funding for career pathways and recent polling shows that 81 percent of Americans are in favor of government funding for support services that will help students finish skills training programs.

Despite the value of career pathways, there is a lack of targeted federal funding to help sustain and strengthen them. As a solution, Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO) re-introduced the Gateway to Careers Act—a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2018 that makes grant funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership with industry stakeholders, community-based organizations and other entities to better serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

More specifically, the Gateway to Careers Act would authorize a new grant program in the Higher Education Act entitled the “Career Pathways Grant Program,” for distribution to eligible career pathway partnerships. As defined by the legislation, career pathway partnerships can consist of:

  • An educational institution, including a two-year public institution of higher education, an area career and technical education school that provides postsecondary level instruction or a consortium of these entities;
  • One or more workforce development partner, including a local board, an industry association, and/or a community-based organization;
  • A Secondary or Adult Education Partner—such as a local education agency, an eligible provider as defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), or a career and technical education agency as defined by The Perkins Act.

Career pathway partnerships would be able to use this grant funding for:

  • Creating or expanding dual-enrollment opportunities for secondary students or disconnected youth;
  • Implementing evidence-based strategies that help adult and other nontraditional students access skills and recognized postsecondary credentials;
  • Providing direct support services such as childcare, transportation, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, assistance in obtaining health insurance, and assistance in obtaining federal nutrition and/or housing benefits;
  • Allocating emergency grants to help students who are facing financial hardships;
  • Offering career pathways navigation and case management services;
  • Other activities identified by eligible institutions as necessary to support the development of implementation of career pathway programs.

Additionally, partnerships receiving grant funding would responsible for reporting their program outcomes to the Secretary of Education on a yearly basis.

NSC applauds Senators Hassan, Young, Kaine, and Gardner for making career pathways a priority and encourage Congress to consider the inclusion of the Gateway to Careers Act in any Higher Education reauthorization bill.