Setting the Right Table: How Key State Conditions Can Accelerate Pathways to Credentials

Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Adam Lowe

Accelerated pathways opportunities are becoming increasingly available to today’s high school students – which is good news for both students and their communities. High schools, colleges, and employers are regularly working together to connect students to meaningful postsecondary credentials and career opportunities at little or no cost to them. Yet, this type of collaboration is too often still considered innovative, rather than essential. 

To support the accelerated pathways movement across the country, Education Strategy Group has worked with the Accelerate ED community to identify several key conditions that enable and scale pathways opportunities, including:


Policies that encourage local implementation include high school accountability systems that reward schools for implementing the components of accelerated pathways, flexible graduation requirements that can be met via multiple college and career preparatory experiences, and college credit transfer systems between postsecondary institutions that include career-relevant courses. 

How Colorado Made It Happen

In May 2009, the Colorado State Legislature passed House Bill 09-1319 and Senate Bill 09-285, the Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act, which created the state’s ASCENT (Accelerating Students through Concurrent Enrollment) program. The program allows students to enroll in college courses at no tuition cost to them or their families by continuing their high school enrollment for the year after 12th grade. Students who start dual enrollment during their high school years and complete 9 credit hours are eligible to enroll in ASCENT. During the 13th year, students remain enrolled in their local school district to generate state and local per-pupil funds to enable them to complete college coursework.

Key Questions for Leaders to Consider:

  • Do local policies (e.g., state, district, or even university policies) incentivize the accumulation of multiple college courses along a pathway, or earning an associate degree in high school? 
  • Do students have flexibility within course schedules to count certain CTE and dual enrollment courses to satisfy graduation requirements?
  • How are students counted for funding and graduation rate accountability purposes if they defer high school graduation en route to earning an associate degree in year 13? 



State leaders looking to create a supportive environment for local communities to establish accelerated pathways need to consider how to incentivize district and college leaders to invest in the added costs of implementing and sustaining high-quality pathways programs – such as course materials, software and equipment for technology classes, transportation to college campuses and employer workplaces, and in marketing the program. States have many options to harness sustainable public funding streams to further this work, such as state CTE funding within the state per pupil formula, dual enrollment scholarships, federal formula funds (e.g. Perkins and student support and academic enrichment block grants), state-sponsored innovation grants, workforce/economic development funds, among others. 

How Texas Made It Happen

In addition to building on its existing P-TECH model, Texas recently created a fund to provide free dual enrollment for low-income students and created a community college funding formula that rewards colleges when students earn 15 program-aligned dual enrollment credit hours.

Key Questions for Leaders to Consider:

  • What are the true costs of running and scaling an accelerated pathways program?
    • What existing funding opportunities could be leveraged to support expansion?
    • How can programs braid public funding to ensure that dollars follow students?



With robust data infrastructure, program leads are better positioned to not just expand their offerings, but ensure equitable access to and success in quality programs. Currently, very few states report on the number of students leaving high school with an associate degree or provide detailed information about the intensity of dual enrollment accrual (e.g., the percentage of students earning a certain number of college credits before graduating). We see a similar trend with other variables like work-based learning – few states collect the information and even fewer report it. And even when data are reported publicly, they are rarely disaggregated by student groups or geography. 

How Kentucky Made It Happen

With their KYSTATS database, Kentucky is a national leader in making longitudinal education and workforce data – including dual enrollment reporting – publicly available. The Eastern Kentucky Student Success Pipeline (EKYSSP) has taken that strong foundation a step further and identified several indicators that they regularly analyze to evaluate the success of their program, including student awareness of the pathways program, enrollment in the pathways program, program completion, and whether a student starts a job aligned to credits/continues education aligned to their credits. EKYSSP uses several data points to gauge whether a student is aware of the pathways program, for example, including click rates and social media engagement and a survey of student awareness (capturing the role of word-of-mouth influencers). 

Key Questions for Leaders to Consider:

    • How will each partner involved in the work support the collection and reporting of key indicators?
    • How is work-based learning information being collected? How is it being reported? What safety measures are in place?
    • How will data be disaggregated?
    • How frequently will data be collected, reviewed, and analyzed?
    • How will student, family, and practitioner voices be captured in the data?
    • How will partners share the information – both internally and externally?
    • How will partners involved in the work use the data? How will the data be leveraged to make changes to the accelerated pathway?

As communities work to scale these opportunities to more students, there are “many ways to many;” but regardless of their approach, it’s important to keep in mind the conditions that can foster successful growth of accelerated pathways. 

To learn more about these conditions and what this work looks like in the field, check out the full Lessons Learned Report from our first Accelerate ED cohort.