Career Pathways

The Challenge

It’s no secret that a post-secondary degree increases your earning potential. But for low-income women who seek to improve their employment opportunities by advancing their education, the traditional college system can be challenging to navigate. Many college programs are centered around students who are entering immediately after leaving high school, and don’t account for adult learners who may have been out of school for a while and need to brush up on their basic math and reading skills. Non-traditional students are more likely to be working while going to school—often grappling with erratic work schedules and more likely to be parents. These students require education and training programs that address their specific needs and adequately support them in attaining their desired credentials (degree or certifications).

What We're Doing

Career pathways are a key strategy to help non-traditional students succeed. These programs meet adults where they are on their educational journey and put them on a solid track to build their skills, develop an academic plan and a clear route to certification, and ultimately access better jobs. Effective career pathways include multiple entry and exit points that help students stack up post-secondary credentials along the way, giving them the ability to pause and get a job in their chosen career if they need to.

Women Employed is a trusted expert on career pathways programs. In Illinois, WE connected with our partners at the Chicago Jobs Council, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the Illinois Community College Board to convene a wide group of stakeholders in career pathways. Working together, we developed a single definition of “career pathways” for the entire state of Illinois. The definition was adopted by state agencies and education policymakers, ensuring all Illinois agencies, providers, and policymakers are on the same page and students have a clearer pathway to success. Now WE are going even further to ensure all students have a path to success.

Partnering with City Colleges of Chicago, WE create daily lesson plans for two types of career pathways programs—Career Foundations and bridge programs—and we make them available to institutions and community organizations nationwide.

WE meet regularly with directors of multiple state agencies to discuss career pathways policies, and to provide state-level guidance to educational institutions and community organizations who provide career pathways programs.

WE lead efforts to oversee implementation of the statewide career pathways definition we worked to develop, to ensure that programs across the state are as aligned and effective as possible, allowing more students to succeed.

Why Do Career Pathways Work?

Learn more about career pathways and how they make a difference for adult students.

Take Action

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Get Our Lesson Plans

Are you an education practitioner or a community organization looking to implement a career pathway program? Find out about our bridge programs and Career Foundations.


Share Your Story

Tell us why career pathways are important to you or how it has made a difference on your life.

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

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