Here’s Why Colorado Should Offer Career-Connected Learning to All Students [According to Research]

The COVID-19 pandemic has created urgency around re-engaging high school students who have fallen behind on graduation requirements and college and career readiness. Research tells us that students who receive mentorship from caring adults and who feel confident and hopeful about their ability to succeed are most likely to be engaged in school. Investing in career-connected learning programs (e.g., work-based learning and career and technical education) represents a crucial re-engagement opportunity.

There are untold numbers of high school students who, as a result of poor engagement during COVID, failed or nearly failed courses this year. Students needing to recover credit, and who may be working in unskilled positions to contribute to their family’s well-being need good reasons to re-engage and do the hard work of recovering lost credits and getting back on track to graduation. Unaddressed, this situation will exacerbate Colorado’s existing leaky pipeline problem, leaving more young people out of the strong middle and high skill economy Colorado offers.

Work-Based Learning (WBL) provides students with opportunities to learn, and feel confident in, foundational skills used in the workforce through participation in applied programs such as internships or apprenticeships. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is career-oriented coursework, or the ability to earn credit through industry partnerships, that provide students with the opportunity to obtain skills-based certifications or credentials. Importantly, WBL and CTE connect young people with mentors and role models who serve as outlets of encouragement and support.

Scientific evidence shows that WBL and CTE are associated with gains in 1) high school standardized testing scores and GPAs, 2) high school graduation rates, and 3) several metrics of college and career readiness.

1) Boost test scores and GPA amongst high school students

2) Increase high school graduation rates and reduce dropout

3) Promote postsecondary education and career readiness

Additional global benefits of WBL and CTE include:

See additional resources (1, 2) for how states can support CTE and WBL in high schools. Additionally, please see this Talent Pipeline Report by the Colorado Workforce Development Council (2020) on the importance of credentials and certifications to be successful in Colorado’s modern workforce.


Are you an educator interested in learning more about bringing career-connected learning to your students or are you a business looking to start a work-based learning program? Email us.

Vice President of Government Affairs
Colorado Succeeds