The State of Work-Based Learning

I attended ACTE’s Work-Based Learning Conference a few weeks ago; like last year, it was a fantastic event, full of great information and talented presenters. (I say this so you’ll sign up next year if you missed this one.)

One session in particular; however, is worth highlighting, since it offered fantastic insight into the state of work-based learning across the country. The session was led by American Student Assistance and Bellwether Education Partners. If you’re not familiar with ASA, you should investigate: They are a former student loan organization turned into a foundation with an explicit focus on career exploration and preparation, and of course work-based learning is an essential component of that work.

ASA just released a new report called “Working to Learn and Learning to Work,” which is a summary of their state-by-state analysis of policies and practices. (You can see analyses for each state here.) What they found, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that states are all over the place with regards to their focus on, and rules for, work-based learning. Their key findings:

  • State approaches to work-based learning policies tend to fall into two broad buckets: centralized and decentralized.
  • A majority of states have broad eligibility requirements for participation in work-based learning; however, very few states commit to ensuring that every student can access a variety of work-based learning experiences.
  • Very few states have developed explicit policies or programs to support high-need high school students and remove barriers to equitable access and success in work-based learning.
  • States commonly leverage federal funds focused on workforce supports to fund high school work-based learning, while a few states also provide dedicated state funding, incentives, and other infrastructure supports specific to work-based learning.
  • Very few states do a good job of communicating available high school work-based learning opportunities.
  • Many states have not yet set clear quality and accountability expectations or developed systems to collect and use data on high school work-based learning for program improvement.

The report includes sound analysis and recommendations.

It was great to see such analysis being done in such an overlooked yet important area. I can’t say I’m surprised by the findings, but just the fact that a foundation is working to bring this into the public square is highly encouraging. I look forward to hearing more from ASA in the future!

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.