Creating College & Career Pathways

The Commonwealth has launched a College and Career Pathways initiative that will serve as an overarching strategy for significantly expanding student access to high-quality career pathways.

In addition to Vocational Programs, there are two new types of pathways for this effort: Early College and Innovation. While more specific sets of characteristics define each pathway, both are anchored in the five guiding principles of equitable access, guided academic pathways, enhanced student support, connection to career, and effective partnerships.

Table of Contents

Early College Programs

In 2016, the Boards of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education looked at whether the state could devise an early college strategy. They commissioned a study, done by Parthenon-EY Education Practice, to look at what exists in Massachusetts and the possibility of expanding successful models. The report found early college is a promising model that narrows educational opportunity gaps, and existing programs were a powerful base from which to build a broader statewide early college initiative.

The vision of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) and Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (BESE) is for growth and sustainability of high-quality early college partnerships connecting our state’s districts and high schools with our state’s colleges. These partnerships will all be aimed at giving thousands of Massachusetts students, especially first-generation college-goers, access to college completion and career success.

Students talk about the benefits of Early College Programs


Design Principles

Under the Early College Designation put forth by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) and Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (BESE), approved designated early college programs in Massachusetts will align with the following design principles:

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1. Equitable Access

targeting students underrepresented in higher education
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4. Connections to Career

through workplace and experiential learning experiences
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2. Academic Pathways

that are well integrated and aligned with college and career
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5. High-Quality & Deep Partnerships

between high schools and colleges
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3. Robust Student Support

in both academics and advising

Additional Resources for Early College Programs

Innovation Pathways

Innovation Pathways are designed to give students coursework and experience in a specific high-demand industry, such as information technology, engineering, healthcare, life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

"It is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to ensure our students are ready to succeed in the 21st Century economy, and these new career pathways are one example of the work that is going on in our schools to do that." --- Governor Charlie Baker 

Launched in 2017, Innovation Pathways are designed to create strong partnerships with employers to expose students to career options, and help them develop knowledge and skills related to a particular field before they graduate high school. 

Innovation Pathways provide students in traditional high schools with career-oriented education that is too rarely available outside of vocational programs, according to Education Secretary James Peyser. These new pathways don’t train students for specific occupations, but prepare them for a variety of educational and career opportunities in a broad industry or sector.

The Baker-Polito Administration awards school districts in the Commonwealth grants to launch Innovation Pathways that connect students' learning to a particular career pathway by providing work-based learning experiences, along with rigorous college-level coursework.

The competitive implementation grants are made possible through a combination of funds from the Carl Perkins Career Technical Education grant, the state's STEM Advisory Council, and the funding obtained by DESE from the Council of Chief State School Officers, In partnership with JP Morgan Chase, for its New Skills for Youth initiative.

Additional Resources for Innovation Pathways

Career Vocational Technical Education

A Career and Vocational Technical Education (CVTE) provides students with a specific occupational focus. Students at a vocational school or a program within a comprehensive high school take an organized sequence of courses designed to educate and prepare them for both employment and continuing academic opportunities. The programs teach technical, academic and employability skills within 44 frameworks in 11 career clusters, based on occupations in demand in Massachusetts.

Additional Resources for Career Vocational Technical Education