RELEASE: 50-State Analysis Examines Middle School Pathways to Postsecondary Success

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that articulates the importance of building strong middle school pathways that explore college and career options and set students on a path for success in postsecondary programs and beyond. The report also analyzes the middle school pathways policy landscape in all 50 states and provides policy recommendations for helping middle schools adopt high-quality postsecondary pathways programming.

The piece outlines five key components of successful, equitable middle school pathways:

  • Rigorous instruction that ensures readiness and eligibility for high-quality high school coursework
  • Counseling and exploration for career pathways and college preparation
  • Opportunities for teachers to connect with and learn from industry and secondary postsecondary programs
  • Family engagement and frequent information sharing regarding college and career pathways options
  • Exposure to role models who deviate from cultural and occupational stereotypes

The report finds that 16 states have specific standards for college and career preparedness in middle school grades and 36 states have some sort of policy or requirement that encourages counseling around college and career preparation in middle school grades. To further promote middle school pathways, the authors recommend policymakers:

  • Develop an articulated strategy to prepare students for college and career, including middle schools’ adoption of rigorous curriculum, course sequences, aligned standards, counseling and exploration for career pathways and college preparation; providing opportunities for teachers to connect with and learn from industry or postsecondary programs; greater parent engagement and frequent information sharing regarding college and career pathways options; and enhancing students’ exposure to role models who deviate from cultural and occupational stereotypes
  • Establish better data collection, particularly at the state and local levels, to understand student trends
  • When possible, increase funding for school counselors
  • Provide professional development for school leaders, teachers, counselors, and staff
  • Engage early and regularly in family-school communication about opportunities to prepare students for college and careers
  • Make individualized academic and career plans a living document
  • Undertake opportunities to blend funding from federal programs, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to support pathways in middle school

“Policymakers and schools across the country are working to create high-quality high school pathways that ensure students are knowledgeable and prepared to navigate the workforce of tomorrow, but dedicated efforts to prepare and inform students about these programs must start in middle school or earlier to give students time to take necessary coursework or gain experience to access high-quality secondary and postsecondary programs,” said Meg Benner, senior consultant for K-12 Education Policy at CAP. “This is especially important given that COVID-19 will only exacerbate inequities and opportunity gaps. Without targeted intervention, lost instructional time for students in elementary and middle school may inhibit their ability to access opportunities that set them up for success in college and the workforce.”

Read the report: “Creating Strong Building Blocks for Every Student: How Middle Schools Can Lay the Foundation for Rigorous High School Pathways” by Meg Benner and Scott Sargrad.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at or 202.741.6292.