Fewer and fewer college students follow the “traditional” path to the bachelor’s degree, entering a four-year institution immediately after high school and completing the degree within four years at that institution. Instead, many students take a range of different paths to college. Some, for example, begin college classes in high school via dual enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credit and reduce the length of time needed to earn a degree. Others begin their education in four-year colleges and universities and then move to other institutions in pursuit of a degree.
The diversity of student experiences suggests that states, institutions, and systems should work together regularly and easily to help move students quickly and seamlessly across different colleges and levels of education. Yet this is quite challenging in practice as most states lack consistent regulations around dual enrollment, transfer, or articulation, and institutions vary greatly in how they count coursework from other sources. Moreover, diverse policy systems such as adult education, workforce training, out-of-school youth programming, and postsecondary education rarely collaborate to help students make effective transitions.
To improve alignment, federal policymakers will need to make legislative and administrative changes that promote integration within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Workforce Investment Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and the Higher Education Act.
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