Past projects and themes of CLP’s work

Career Ladders Project has contributed to numerous initiatives to help build career pathways for students and forge workforce development policies that address the needs of employers with the goals of pursuing equity and increasing opportunities for all Californians. We collaborate with state leadership and policy makers to expand and replicate successful projects. And we identify and help to implement policy changes to support the most promising new practices.

Career Advancement Academies

The Career Advancement Academies enabled underserved Californians – including students who were the first in their families to attend college and students from low-income families or communities of color – to enroll in higher education and pursue credentials related to workforce and industry needs. Operating from 2007 to 2017, the CAAs aimed to increase the supply of middle-skill workers by serving underprepared  adults ages 18 to 30 whose reading, writing, and math skills shut them out of postsecondary education and high-wage jobs. CAAs supported students by building foundational skills for completing postsecondary education and entering a career.

CLP conceptualized the CAA framework and worked with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) to launch the statewide CAA initiative, designed to provide more structured educational experiences for students facing multiple barriers to postsecondary education. Early on, CLP forged a public/private partnership with the CCCCO and California philanthropic organizations— including the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and the Bay Area Workforce Funding Collaborative—to support capacity building and coordination for the overall CAA initiative. CLP has played a critical role in coordinating and advancing the CAA initiative, supporting colleges to implement CAAs, building a statewide community of practice, documenting the work and working closely with the evaluators to improve the initiative over time.

Launched in 2007, the Career Advancement Academies are designed to enable underserved Californians – typically first in their families to attend college, low-income, or from communities of color – to enroll in higher education and adjust to emerging and evolving workforce and industry needs. Specifically, CAAs aim to increase the supply of middle skill workers by targeting under-prepared young adults (ages 18-30) whose low basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics shut them out of post-secondary education and high-wage jobs. CAAs support students through a holistic set of interventions to build the foundational skills needed to complete post-secondary education and enter careers.

CAAs are intended as instigators of institutional change. Rather than creating new infrastructures, CAAs seek to rework the system for delivering career education by integrating it into existing services. As such, the CAAs are not a “model” replicated uniformly across colleges, but rather a framework of common elements that provides each college the space for innovation in its interpretation and implementation.

Career Advancement Academies combine technical training and basic skills content into contextualized instruction, so that students acquire basic skills in a format relevant to their careers of interest. The CAA framework groups students in learning cohorts, provides them with intensive supports, and facilitates their career transitions. In combination, these elements build pipelines – or pathways – for students, leading from CAA programs to careers and/or continued higher education.

Career Advancement Academy stories

Skyline College Career Advancement Academy (CAA) Student Profiles
CAA Phase I and Phase II
Career Advancement Academies - First 3 Years
East Bay CAA Overview

Some background on college and career pathway development

Clear pathways to college and career provide critical support for students in their transition into successful careers. Early access and exposure to sector-based pathways connects supports students in setting goals and choosing a program of study.

Characteristics of clear pathways include:

  • High school academies and community college programs align to help students advance and accelerate
  • Pathways are mapped to facilitate student understanding and allow seamless transitions (and do not include duplicative curriculum)
  • Learning is aligned with industry-recognized certifications and stackable certificates, providing opportunities for students to build skills and a portfolio related to their chosen field
  • Pathways include integrated and rigorous CTE and academic content so that students reach milestones and earn certificates along the way to completing degrees and transfers
  • Students have the opportunity to earn and learn as they explore a career field; internships and other work-based learning is available to support the advancement in college and career

Research that supports this work:

Developing a Road Map for Student Success: Facilitating the Establishment of Articulation between High Schools and CCCs in CTE areas – Kris Costa, ASCCC & Michelle Pilati, ASCCC/Rio Hondo College, Strengthening Student Success Conference, October 9, 2013

The presentation covers the various opportunities for curriculum development, including development of C-ID descriptors, model curriculum, articulation templates and local programs of study.

Portable, Stackable Credentials: A New Education Model for Industry-specific Career Pathways – James T. Austin, Gail O. Mellow, Mitch Rosin, Marlene B. Seltzer, November 2012

At the core of a 21st century, responsive education system are portable and stackable credentials that enable students of all ages to build careers with family-sustaining, middle class incomes. In such a system, students have the opportunity to both learn and earn by acquiring shorter-term credentials with clear labor market value even as they continue to build on these to access more advanced jobs and higher wages.

Strengthening Transitions by Encouraging Career Pathways: A Look at State Policies and Practices –  CCRC, Katherine L. Hughes & Melinda Mechur Karp, 2006

This report identifies ways in which state policies can support students’ academic and labor market success by creating coherent systems of preparation for students entering technical fields. In particular, the report focuses on state policies that support the implementation of career pathways, such as those encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education’s College and Career Transitions Initiative, which span secondary and postsecondary education and culminate in rewarding careers.

Community College Pathways for Former Foster Youth

Community College Pathways for Foster Youth (CCP) was a statewide initiative designed to improve college and career outcomes for former foster youth at 11 California community colleges. It linked community colleges across California, with the goal of supporting former foster youth to achieve their educational goals and access careers with family-sustaining wages and advancement opportunities.

Each year, almost 4,000 youth emancipate from — “age out” of — California’s foster care system. These youth are particularly vulnerable, facing enormous social, economic, and educational challenges, and many struggle to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

As the coordinating partner in CCP, we provided technical assistance and professional development, working with colleges individually and collectively to expand and deepen their work with former  foster youth.  Through this and other initiatives, we helped improve campus services for former foster youth and identify structural and systemic barriers to their success. This work led CLP to produce practice and policy recommendations to improve services statewide.CCP was supported by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

CCP focuses on linking community colleges across California in order to strengthen outcomes for former foster youth in achieving postsecondary educational goals as well as accessing careers with family-sustaining wages and advancement opportunities. The CCP community of practice has a particular focus on collective strategies which demonstrate effective instructional outcomes for former foster youth and increase connections with career pathways.

Each year, over 4,000 youth emancipate from, or “age out” of, the foster care system. These youth represent one of California’s most vulnerable populations, facing enormous social, economic, and educational challenges. In the face of these challenges, many struggle to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. However, without access to and achievement in post-secondary educational institutions, former foster youth are extremely limited in their ability to find employment that will be personally rewarding and provide financial stability.

The Career Ladders Project, as the coordinating partner, provides direct support in the form of technical assistance and professional development, working with over twenty colleges and universities to expand and deepen their work with former foster youth. Through CCP and other initiatives, the Career Ladders Project not only works to improve services for former foster youth on individual community college campuses, but also to identify structural and systemic barriers to student success as well as to develop practice and policy recommendations that will improve services statewide.

Since 2009 CCP has been supported by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and operates in close partnership with California College Pathways. The Career Ladders Project operates under the auspices of the Foundation for California Community Colleges, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the official auxiliary to the California Community Colleges.

California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT)

In July 2014, the California Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law the California Education Code, sections 53010 through 53016, and the Budget Act of 2014, Statutes 2014, creating the California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT). Funds in the amount of $250 million will be made available to school districts, county superintendents of schools, direct-funded charter schools, regional occupational centers or programs operated by a joint powers authority, and community college districts in the form of one-time competitive grants.

The Career Ladders Project provides technical assistance to a few of the awarded CCPT sites with a focus on high school to college transitioning, dual enrollment strategies, improved placement, and career pathway development.

Transitions from foster care, alternative schools, and incarceration

With funding from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, CLP supported the creation of Gateway Programs to connect disadvantaged youth and adults to postsecondary education and high-wage, high-growth career pathways. Partnerships created in this work included Workforce Investment Boards, community colleges, social service agencies, community based organizations, and foundations. Each Gateway Program included:

  • 14-18 week intensive learning community
  • 12 college credits (216 hours)
  • Intensive English and math skills
  • In-class counselor
  • Financial aid
  • Social support and case management
  • Orientation to career and educational opportunities
  • Transition to post-secondary training in high wage, high growth career pathway, certificate or AA/AAS degree program.
  • Targeted industries: allied health, biotechnology manufacturing, construction and other skilled trades (including aviation, automotive and heavy equipment mechanics), energy and petrochemicals, financial services.

Elements that supported sustainability:

  • Community college per capita support
  • WIA adult and youth training resources
  • Social service agency in/kind support

Gateway Programs at Fresno City College and Los Medanos College were featured on TV news stations.

Information Communications Technologies Study

The Latino Institute for Corporate Inclusion and Career Ladders Project conducted an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) education and workforce study.  Supported by AT&T, and focused on Latinx and African American students, this ICT study examined how California college and career pathways could  lead to increased workforce diversity.

ICT encompasses everything related to computing, software, information, networking and communications technologies. The information gathered through this study will prove invaluable for California employers, enabling them to plan for their future workforce, develop potential partnerships with educational institutions, and inform their approach to education and training in this sector.

CLP developed an ICT report on labor needs based on information from industry partners and education and workforce development organizations. It highlighted employer and labor market data to understand industry pipelines and projected trends, and it examined community college and California State University offerings for students from communities that are underrepresented in ICT industries.

For more information about this project, please contact Luis Chavez, at, or 510.268.0566. (The institute has merged with the Americas Partnership/Sociedad de las Américas, A.C.)

SAP Oakland Unified School District & Berkeley City College ICT/Digital Media Pathway

San Mateo County Community College District Initiative

We collaborated with the San Mateo County Community College District and its three colleges — Cañada College, College of San Mateo, and Skyline College — to improve the student experience and college completion rates.

This involved three major strategies:

  1. more accurately placing students in English and math with the use of multiple measures,
  2. improving early college experience by increasing early credit offerings and
  3. offering courses and programs in a more structured and coherent manner.

ICT/Digital Media Pathway work with SAP and East Bay cities

Building on our relationships with Oakland Unified School District and Berkeley City College, and thanks to an innovative grant from SAP, CLP collaboratively planned and piloted the first west coast SAP 9-14 Information Communications Technology (ICT)/Digital Media Pathway.

SAP seeks to develop critical talent and increase participation and success for students from underrepresented communities. SAP has co-designed with K-14 faculty and staff the development of an innovative virtual mentoring and work-based learning platform with nonprofit iCouldbe.

Concurrent Courses Initiative

Funded through June 2011 by the James Irvine Foundation, the Concurrent Courses Initiative (CCI) was managed and evaluated by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University. It aimed to demonstrate how dual enrollment programs can enhance college and career pathways for low-income youth who are struggling academically or who come from communities historically underrepresented in higher education.

CCI supported eight secondary and postsecondary partnerships in California developing career-focused dual enrollment programs. Career Ladders Project assisted the partners to implement dual enrollment, exchange effective practices, and identify common challenges and emergent solutions.

Linking After-School Employment to Careers

Following the passage of Proposition 49, California made a major commitment to after-school programming; and the availability of After School Education and Safety (ASES) funds led to a surge in after-school programs and created an estimated 12,000 new after-school jobs.

CLP worked with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office to foster partnerships and synergy between the after-school provider community and community colleges in California. Working with other state agencies, educational institutions, workforce development, and community organizations, the colleges and after-school community collaborated in developing a high-quality workforce and high-quality after-school programming.

Linking after-school employment to continuing career pathways in related fields such as education, youth development or other public services gives community college students interested in these fields the opportunity to try out working with youth, gain valuable work experience, and contribute to their communities. After-school employment complements the college-going schedule, enabling community college students to work as after-school employees while pursing their further education.

Promoting a culture of college-going and continued career advancement can strengthen after-school programs, raise aspirations of school-age youth, and address the growing workforce gaps in public service, education, and other occupations serving youth.

CLP's early dual enrollment work

Students who participate in high-quality dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate high school, enter college, and persist in college to completion, according to national research.

CLP is supporting and leading a variety of initiatives to spread access to dual enrollment and other supports for the transition to college, as detailed here.

Find links to some of our earlier work in this field, including the dual enrollment toolkit, below.

California Community Colleges Linked Learning Initiative (CCCLLI)

Students who successfully navigate California community colleges to earn a degree or cer­tificate nearly double their earnings within three years, but less than 50 percent of community college students who seek such credentials complete the process. Completion rates are still lower for African American and Latinx community college students.

The CCC Linked Learning Initiative aims to improve these rates by extending the promise of Linked Learning into postsecondary education. It strengthens connec­tions between Linked Learning high schools and community colleges.

The California Linked Learning District Initiative, a demonstration project funded by the James Irvine Foundation, sup­ported:

  • a system of early outreach and support for Linked Learning Academy students focused on industry-supported community college pathways
  • a transition program that prepares students for postsecondary success in a career pathway program, and
  • ongoing student services and academic support while in college.

CLLDI supported colleges and their high school partners to build dual enrollment, alternative assessment strategies, and con­textualized, articulated coursework and student services support. CLP worked with several California com­munity colleges to document the practices that:

  • foster more intentional educational and career transitions from high school,
  • improve college retention and academic achievement, and
  • improve college and career success for graduates of Linked Learning High School programs.

Establishing clear pathways from high school to the full range of postsecondary opportunities is an essential step in overcoming structural barriers to educational and career advancement. 

High-Impact Pathways

HIP was a CLP-guided approach to connect progressive levels of education and prepare students for success in both college and career. The pathways framework links systems of education to in-demand 21st-century skills, addressing the changing needs of students and regional economies.

Online communities of practice

CLP brings together in online discussion groups practitioners working across California to redesign their practices and structures for equity and student success. Members of these “communities of practice” give and receive support online. They engage in dialogue about specific practice areas, discuss practical issues, and share expertise, promising practices, and resources.

Youth Career Technical Education - pathways through high school and community college

Program and pathway mapping

Career pathways maps increase career and college access, success, and equity for students.

Maps clarify and align programs and services; they link increasing levels of certification, education, and employment; and they support students in choosing among the opportunities that interest them. Clear maps — and program and system alignment — enable more students to attain credentials with labor market value and earn wages that sustain their families. Click here to read more about pathway mapping and why we do it. 

Recent projects include the CCPT work with the Santa Clarita Community College District (see above), Mira Costa College District sessions in 2017 and 2018, and a City College of San Francisco mapping summit in 2017.

At CCSF, collaborating with faculty and staff, CLP created a three-phase approach to inquiry and redesign of seven key pathways: Culinary and Hospitality, Childhood Education and Family Studies, Automotive and Auto Body, Information Community Technology (Computer Science and CNIT), Carpentry and Construction Management, Business (credit and noncredit), and Health Education.The team met ahead of the summit to review map templates, review the process, and brainstorm whom to invite and what information to gather (about early college credit opportunities, industry certificates, the local labor market, and more). During the event, CLP and CCSF faculty and staff worked to capture curricula; degrees and certificates; industry certifications; and more. The day ended with a dinner and sharing of takeaways and draft maps.

At Mira Costa, CLP supported the team in producing maps of pathways including El Camino, Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Diego and San Dieguito high schools and California Street Academy (linked below at “completed pathway maps”). Here are plans that emerged from some of the sessions:

CLP has supported numerous schools, districts, and partnerships to map their programs and pathways. Here are some of the resulting maps, plus a guide describing the process:

Design it-Build it-Ship it (DBS)

Design it – Build it – Ship it was a four-year, $14.9 million initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor in the East Bay under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training (TAACCCT) program.

Contextualized Teaching and Learning (CTL)

Adult Education 


When Adult Education Block Grants were created in 2013, Career Ladders Project began working with a number of regional consortia across California, supporting their strategic planning and implementation.

CLP helped the consortia research and conceptualize their plans and then assisted them in aligning their adult school and community college offerings, pathway development and mapping, and strategic planning. CLP also trained consortia in contextualized teaching and learning and collaborative teaching approaches.

Read more:

Transitions to college - tools

Career Ladders Project created tools and guides to help K-12 and community college leaders, faculty, and staff address their transition needs. These online tools aid in diagnosing strengths and challenges in their transitions for students.

Self-assessment: CLP recommends to start by taking this quiz (or this older version); the results will indicate what indicators of success need immediate attention.

Then get to work: Participants can use resources below to address their needs. These tools promote a collaborative approach to programming for students’ transitions from high school to college.


CCSF-Laney Regional Collaborative Program for AV Technologist Certificate

CCSF’s Broadcast Electronic Media Arts (BEMA) department and Laney’s Media Communications department collaborated to offer a regional pathway to InfoComm International’s Certified Technology Specialist certificate, an audiovisual professional credential. Career Ladders Project facilitated the collaboration, which Diablo Valley College and College of San Mateo have now joined.

InfoComm is the trade association representing the professional audiovisual and information communications industries worldwide. The $85 billion AV industry is growing rapidly and AV professionals earn an excellent living in a rapidly changing, high-tech field. Along with this growth and the “graying out” of the current workforce, InfoComm is concerned that there are not enough qualified new entrants. Labor market information and supply-side data showed revealed high demand for AV techs across the Bay Area but no colleges offering certificates. For more detailed information on the occupation, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s 

In June 2016, InfoComm invited California community colleges and K-12 districts to an education session at its annual trade show in Las Vegas. Its Certified Technology Specialist program is the only ANSI-accredited audiovisual certification under the International Standard ISO/IEC 17024. InfoComm encouraged educators to integrate its curriculum into their pathways and programs to prepare students for the certification exams. After reviewing the CTS curriculum, Laney and CCSF decided to collaborate: Laney had a CTS certificate program (but it needed a certified instructor to teach AV Essentials I and II), and CCSF offered courses needed in an updated program that Laney did not offer.

The project was seeded with funding from the San Francisco CCPT, and implemented with funding from the Strong Workforce Program. Submitted as a SWP Regional Joint Venture, it attracted the interest of DVC and CSM.

El Camino College and Torrance Adult School

San Mateo County Community College District Initiative

Description of San Mateo County Community College District Initiative
San Mateo County Community College District Initiative Presentations

Some background on cross-system collaboration

The people working most closely with students need to be closely connected with their counterparts at other organizations to inform their own work and strengthen their practices. We have seen these collaborations be the most fruitful of bridges between K-12 districts and community colleges.

Characteristics of successful collaborations:

  • A “core team” and/or point person is established at the CC, K12 and Mayor’s office to convene and plan regular leadership meetings
  • K12 and CC Faculty is engaged in shared inter-organizational professional development activities
  • K12 and CC Faculty meets at least twice a year to address curriculum gaps between systems
  • Positive peer relationships exist between the counseling faculty at CC and at K12
  • K12 counselors are trained and informed about community college admissions procedures, CTE certificates, and pathway program options
  • CC Counselors are trained in the mandated and regulations of the K-12 system (eg. Common Core, A-G)
  • Community College outreach counselors face minimal barriers when promoting the community college as a relevant post-secondary option in the K12 schools
  • K12 faculty are informed of data loss points between the systems and understand the urgency of promoting the community college equal to the 4 year university
  • After-school CBO partners are informed of data loss points and trained in community college admissions procedures and pathway programs of study
  • Counselors and instructional faculty across systems utilize a common career exploration planning tool

Researching support the importance of collaboration

Teaching and Learning in the Dual Enrollment Classroom
Katherine L. Hughes & Linsey Edwards, CCRC, 2012

This article explores how teaching in a dual enrollment program can foster new approaches to classroom pedagogy. Researchers from the Community College Research Center use qualitative data from California’s Concurrent Courses Initiative to describe how program faculty implemented research-based pedagogical strategies in order to improve student persistence.

This article was published in New Directions for Higher Education, vol. 2012.

Developing Work-Based Learning Pedagogies
David Thornton Moore & Katherine L. Hughes

The School-to-Work movement came together as a major national force for educational reform in the late 1980s and reached its peak in 1994 with the passage of the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. Throughout the 1990s, the movement had a substantial record of creativity and accomplishment.

Among other things, the movement hastened the spread of career development activities for all students, strengthened ties between schools and local employers, and supported the creation of many innovative work-based education programs. By the end of the decade, however, the influence of the movement had begun to decline as other reform movements came to dominate the national educational landscape.

This chapter features a thorough discussion of work-based learning pedagogies.

This chapter was published in: Stull, W.J. & Sanders, N.M. (2003) The School-to-Work Movement: Origins and Destinations. Praeger Publishers.