Starting Early to Create Continuous Pathways

By Emily Rogan

Hobsons and Achieving the Dream partner to help more students go to community college and start their careers.

At the DREAM 2016 Summit in Atlanta in February, Achieving the Dream’s (ATD) CEO Karen Stout announced a new partnership with Hobsons, joining forces to find better ways to support students throughout their academic careers.

These powerhouses will co-host two “Learning to Life Pathway Workshops,” uniting K–12 superintendents, community college and four-year university presidents and industry leaders to discuss “how we align these disparate parts to make it better for students,” says John Plunkett, vice president of policy and advocacy for Hobsons.

After the two workshops are complete, the organizations will publish results, including “promising practices, lessons learned and next steps,” according to the ATD website.

“We want to shed some light on those things that are in the way systemically to prevent students from creating a clear path,” from the early academic years through college and careers, Plunkett says.

Why now?

Although more students are graduating from high school than ever before, a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center indicates that college enrollment has declined over the past four years, particularly among low-income students.

Hobsons provides tools and resources for college readiness, admissions and advising solutions. Its mission aligns with that of ATD by giving educators and leaders the ability to provide continuous support to students as they move through the educational pipeline.

At the DREAM conference, ATD unveiled its new focus to help build “community colleges’ institutional capacity in seven essential areas including: leadership and vision, teaching and learning, engagement and communication, equity, data and technology, strategy and planning, and policies and practice.”

Planning underway

Though the details of the workshops haven’t been finalized, as many as 100 participants representing K–12, community colleges, four-year institutions and business leaders will discuss topics ranging from career information and education to enrollment and advising, with the goal of making students’ transitions and pathways as smooth and barrier-free as possible.

Starting pathways early

While the goal is to help all students, says Plunkett, there will be an emphasis on populations such as first-generation, minority and low-income students, who are at greatest risk of not persisting and completing. “The current system works for the people who know how to work it,” Plunkett says. “It can be overwhelming for the underserved.”

Part of the challenge is to help students see down the road, making a connection between what they learn in school and what they hope to achieve. For younger students, it might mean a basic introduction to different careers, leading to an understanding of what kind of education a particular field requires.

“It’s aligning strengths to courses and providing a map to future careers,” explains Plunkett. “It’s not locking [students] into one path but connecting future life with what they should be doing now through middle school and high school.”

Community colleges are key

While much of these efforts have been taking place in communities across the country, the intention is to help bring it to scale and make it accessible to all. “Community colleges are the hub, the centerpiece, to connect the dots,” Plunkett says.

Community colleges’ roles can be broken down into three areas:

  1. Forming partnerships and working with K–12 administrators; having conversations early on about students
  2. Discussing what information will be helpful as students progress into higher education, including dual enrollment, articulation agreements, transfers to four-year institutions
  3. Making a connection to career and industries, making sure certification and curriculum align to industry requirements

Interested? Want more information? Contact John Plunkett at

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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