What Are Pathways?

New England educators have long recognized the value of designing pathways that meet the needs and interests of their students. Every New England state has embraced the notion of personalization and state education agencies together along with policymakers have attempted to encourage and guide the development of pathways for students. While each state characterizes pathways in slightly different ways, when looking across the region, three common features emerge:

  • Pathways should be intentional and coordinated.
  • Pathways should be aligned to student interests and supported by guidance from adults.
  • Pathways should lead to college, career, and citizenship readiness.

To better understand how states characterize pathways and how they might differ from one another,  please read the summaries below as well as the associated resources in the appendix, which expand on and provide more detail.


A learning pathway is a coordinated program of rigorous, high-quality education and work-related training that advances students in their life-long career(s) of choice. Pathways are seamless and include multiple possibilities leading to an industry-recognized credential that may be credit bearing, certificate or licensure, and/or an associate or baccalaureate degree and beyond.


The Maine task force team sees pathways as a student-driven, guided process toward additional educational movement—credentials of value, college, career, and citizenship readiness. They see all pathways as equal and recognize the necessity for all pathways to be flexible with students able to seamlessly navigate among and between them. All pathways support students in their future planning and these types of pathways systems necessitate a culture of support and collaboration across the entire system—in schools, communities, classrooms, business and industry, within and among students and teachers.


A pathway is an intentional educational structure within a school system which includes a rigorous academic course of study, authentic contextual learning experiences, caring adults to provide guidance and advising, and social, emotional and learning supports designed to prepare students for college and career. To be considered a pathway, the structure should adhere to the five Guiding Principles identified by the MA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Board of Higher Education: Equitable Access, Guided Academic Pathways, Enhanced Student Support, Connection to Career, and Effective Partnerships.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has developed a framework for school districts to develop career pathway systems that balance local opportunities and programs of study, as well as industry recognized credentials while striving towards equity and access despite zip code. A career pathway system is defined by Senate Bill 276 as a high quality education system that spans secondary and postsecondary education, blending rigorous core academic and career instruction, offering focused career guidance and advisement systems including high-quality work-based learning experiences, to significantly expand access to, participation in, and successful completion of those pathways, culminating in postsecondary or industry credentials, licensure, and career-related technical skills.

Rhode Island

A pathway is a rigorous educational opportunity for learners that integrates real-world learning experiences, and supports learners reaching their academic, career, and life goals. Career pathways include, for example, career and technical preparation programs, online and blended learning, internships and apprenticeships, and technical training and work-site experiences.


Flexible pathways are any combination of high-quality expanded learning opportunities, including academic and experiential components, which build and assess attainment of identified proficiencies and lead to secondary school completion, civic engagement, and postsecondary readiness.

Explore More of the Report

This report is authored by the members of the New England Secondary School Consortium Task Force on Flexible and Multiple Pathways. The NESSC Leads commissioned the Task Force, whose recommendations emerged over the course of meetings taking place between March 2019 and October 2020. While each participating NESSC state education agency is committed to equitable pathways, the recommendations included in this report do not necessarily mean that they have the formal endorsement of the participating agencies.

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