Adult Career Pathways: Providing a Second Chance in Public Education

Hull, D. M.
Hinckley, R.
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Occupational Research and Development
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

As the educational requirements of a rewarding career and fulfilled personal life have risen over the last 30–40 years, the achievement gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has widened. Initiatives such as Tech Prep, contextualized teaching and learning, and small communities have improved the earning and learning potential for many young people in the middle 65 percent of the educational spectrum, but huge numbers still enter adulthood without the educational credentials necessary to raise themselves and their families above the poverty level.

The career limitations of our young people are only one side of the coin. The other is that employers throughout our country face a diminishing pool of workers who are qualified for the critical jobs needed to keep America’s private sector competitive in today’s global economy. Many businesses are being forced to outsource jobs to workers in other countries. If that trend continues unchecked, the future of our nation is in jeopardy.

We believe that the key to providing a better life for millions of Americans, and giving our employers a strong home-grown workforce, is an educational strategy called Career Pathways. In 2005, coauthor Dan Hull and a group of twenty experts from around the country produced a thorough treatment of Career Pathways titled Career Pathways: Education with a Purpose (CORD). That book provides the following definition:

  • A Career Pathway is a coherent, articulated sequence of rigorous academic and career/technical courses, commencing in the ninth grade and leading to an associate degree, baccalaureate degree and beyond, an industry-recognized certificate, and/or licensure.

Whereas the book cited above focuses primarily on high school students on their way up, this book focuses on adults in need of a second chance. We extend the Career Pathways concept by giving it an adult focus. Our working definition is this: An Adult Career Pathway (ACP) consists of the guidance, remediation, curricula, and other support elements required to enable career-limited adults to enter the workforce and progress in rewarding careers.

This book is a “call to action.” It challenges educators, community leaders, and businesspeople to work together in finding a solution to a problem that prevents many U.S. citizens from obtaining the education that today’s workplace demands. Current federal, state, and community programs are not solving the problem.

We propose a fresh and challenging plan with practical strategies to tackle this urgent need. Chapter 1 presents the scope and magnitude of the problem. Chapters 2 and 3 set forth a solution. Chapters 4–8 offer strategies, based on experiences and practices of community college leaders who are trying to address the problem. Chapter 9 considers the costs while Chapters 10 and 11 examine existing policies and programs at the federal and state levels.

Public resources alone will not provide enough to support ACP programs, so Chapter 12 explores the resources (both financial and “in-kind”) that must to come from the private sector and from the businesses and other organizations that stand to benefit from having adequate supplies of world-class workers in their communities.

Benefits and Uses

The book aims to challenge educators, community leaders, and business people to work together in finding a solution and in addressing the difficulties that prevent many U.S. citizens from obtaining the education that today’s workplace demands. The authors provide practical strategies on developing career pathways for low-skill adults. Chapters 4–8 offer strategies that are based on experiences and practices of community college leaders who are trying to address the problem. The book can steer a number of professionals in the field toward better practices to prepare adults for the coming job market.