Bridge Programs & Career Foundations

The Challenge

Career pathways are a proven strategy to help adult and non-traditional students succeed in school and access better career opportunities. But creating and implementing effective programs can be a challenge for education providers, like community colleges and community-based organizations, that often have limited resources. In addition, these students are barred from accessing financial aid to pursue dual enrollment programs that allow them to get the skills training they need to earn certificates and advance economically. If WE can ease the burden, connecting education providers with expert tools and resources to pave the way for career pathways and advocating for policies that increase available resources, WE can help more students earn their degrees.

What We're Doing

WE are championing three types of career pathways programs—bridge programs, integrated education and training, and Career Foundations—providing colleges and community organizations with resources to help implement them and seeking policy improvements to bring programs to scale.

Bridge programs are specialized courses that help students build the basic reading, language, and math skills they need to earn a High School Equivalency, while also preparing them for their chosen career. WE partner with City Colleges of Chicago to create daily lesson plans for bridge and integrated education and training programs in high-demand industries, like healthcare, information technology, and early childhood education. WE also work with community organizations and community colleges outside of Chicago to design and deliver bridge programs that will support adults to smoothly transition into higher education and further job training.

But what about students who don’t know what field they want to go into, or lack the academic skills to start a bridge program? To address this missing link, Women Employed partnered with City Colleges of Chicago to pioneer Career Foundations, an innovative course that helps non-traditional students explore their options, identify a future career, and learn what academic programs they’ll need to get there. As with lesson plans for bridge programs, WE have made Career Foundations lesson plans available to colleges and community organizations, making it easier for them to implement the course.


WE lead a consortium of community-based organizations in the Chicagoland area that offer Career Foundations to the people they serve, providing them with the information and support they need to get their programs off the ground, train instructors, recruit students, and transition those students into college.

WE offer the bridge and Career Foundations lesson plans we’ve developed with City Colleges of Chicago free of charge to colleges and universities across the country. A digitized version of Career Foundations is also available.


We are also working to improve policies and procedures that will allow these students to access financial aid by working with institutions and with the Illinois Community College Board to develop a state-defined process for Ability to Benefit, a policy which could allow students to access federal financial aid for career pathways programs.

Request Our Lesson Plans

Are you an education provider or community organization interested in implementing Career Foundations or bridge programs? 

Take Action

Build Your Skills

The Pathways to Careers Network produces webinars to share resources and information with education providers nationwide.

Learn the History

Bridge programs, Career Foundations, and the unified career pathways definition. Learn about the history of career pathways in Illinois and why they work.


Take Our Survey

We’re constantly improving our lesson plans, and we need to hear from you to make that happen.

Together, we will ensure more women, families, and communities can build their economic power and thrive.

All new or increased gifts will be matched by an anonymous donor!