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Hypothesis: Postsecondary Partnerships

October 6, 2020

Practices & Centers

Strong Partnership and Alignment with Local Postsecondary Institutions

Effective and equitable career pathways start at the secondary level and continue through higher education so that students earn certificates, credentials, and degrees that have value in their local labor market. Intermediaries work with postsecondary institutions to ensure this continuity. Students receive college credit for on-the-job experiences such as internships and apprenticeships. They also receive consistent career advising that aligns with work-based learning opportunities and pathways that they can access in the future. Intermediary and postsecondary partners have an effective plan for recruiting youth who are Black, Latinx, or experiencing poverty for work-based learning opportunities. Placement demographics closely reflect those of the ecosystem, with no group over- or underrepresented in a particular program or with a particular employer.

For in-depth guidance on partnerships with higher education, see An Intermediary’s Guide to Working with Postsecondary Partners from JFF.

Spotlight: Brooklyn STEAM Center, Brooklyn Navy Yard

In its first two years of operation, the Brooklyn STEAM Center has worked with each student in its graduating class to enroll them in regional higher education institutions. Students also participate in a weekly Postsecondary Plans class that helps them map out steps and resources they will need for life beyond high school. This high-touch model of deep engagement led to all 96 students in the first graduating cohort going to college. The Brooklyn STEAM Center’s current postsecondary partners include three public institutions—Brooklyn College, New York City College of Technology, and Hudson Valley Community College—and three private institutions—Pratt Institute, St. Francis College, and New York University.

The Brooklyn STEAM Center was able to quickly build higher education partnerships because of the long history of collaboration between City University of New York (CUNY) and the New York City Department of Education. Through CUNY’s College Now program, begun in 1984, over 22,000 students from 470 New York City high schools take CUNY college courses. Students can earn up to 15 college credits free of charge by the time they graduate high school. CUNY has also invested in early college high schools and P-Tech models. Thus, the Brooklyn STEAM Center did not have to negotiate postsecondary articulation agreements; they were in place for the majority of its pathways, and many of the Brooklyn STEAM Center’s industry-recognized credentials were already articulated with local postsecondary institutions.

Since work-based learning is embedded in the curriculum, students receive credit for it and each student earns at least one industry-recognized credential. The Brooklyn STEAM Center’s 30-person Advisory Council has also been an important factor in its success. Higher education faculty and administrators have leveraged their personal relationships at their institutions to open opportunities for Brooklyn STEAM Center students. The higher education representatives on the Advisory Council have also helped to inform pathways curriculum and school design so that student advisement is well-aligned with college preparation.

Spotlight: Rush Education and Career Hub, Rush University and Medical Center

The Rush Education and Career Hub (REACH) is housed within Rush University and Medical Center (Rush), so it is embedded in a postsecondary STEM ecosystem with rich resources. Rush and REACH have made a long-term commitment to addressing the health and well-being of the communities on Chicago’s West Side, whose residents are primarily Black, Puerto Rican, and Mexican, many of whom are experiencing poverty. REACH serves both the communities as a whole and youth, ages 14 to 24, who live there. Thanks to long-time partnerships between the Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago to implement a number of STEM early colleges mean that collaborative structures and agreements support REACH’s pathways work. Specifically, REACH has a longstanding relationship with Malcolm X College, one of the seven City Colleges, which is located close by, making it easy to facilitate and coordinate educational and career experiences.

REACH provides training in the following entry-level health care roles: community health worker, certified nursing assistant, and EKG technician, and is currently planning a certified phlebotomist program in partnership with Malcolm X College. Rush University’s College of Health Sciences has an articulation agreement with Malcolm X, and REACH supports the facilitation of an updated articulation. REACH also has strong relationships with the central offices of the City Colleges, so it can bring lessons learned to the system and help identify and troubleshoot problems to move partnership goals forward.

REACH works closely with Rush’s human resource office to recruit and place youth in internships. REACH is also in a unique position regarding work-based learning for postsecondary credit; its parent organization acts as the main employer, offering paid internships to high school and college students in a variety of health-care programs, allowing them to earn credit for clinical experiences.

Click on the icons below to learn about the other five hypotheses and read spotlights that illustrate how the Building Equitable Pathways partners took on this work. The spotlights are intended to show theory in action and to support new intermediaries as they tackle the challenge of building equitable pathways that promote young people’s college and career success.

K-12 Partnerships

Strong partnership and alignment with local K-12 schools and districts

Alignment with Labor Market Demands

Articulated paths aligned to local labor market demands

Employer Partnerships

Strong partnership with the local employer community to advance opportunities for work-based learning


Sustainable business model


Policy agenda and supporting strategies


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