PROJECTWorkforce Alignment Study: Maximizing Workforce Success for College Students

Colleges are transforming to meet the needs of “new majority learners”—predominantly low-income students, students of color, and first-generation college students. However, rising education costs and inequitable employment outcomes have led learners to question the return on their investment. 

In response, colleges are implementing various approaches to align programs with workforce demands and ensure learners can access pathways to careers. These key dimensions of workforce alignment (see figure below) include supporting student career decisions and navigation, building skills for work, and connecting students to employment. Despite the range of models within each approach, limited information exists on effective strategies for helping students get good jobs.

Workforce Alignment Study Illustration

The Workforce Alignment Study, funded by the Ascendium Education Group, aims to address this knowledge gap by

  • providing a framework to understand workforce-aligned strategies for new majority learners, especially low-income students,
  • generating knowledge of how college program and short-term credential value varies for students,
  • investigating how CTE program design varies across sectors and is related to student earnings, and
  • establishing the groundwork for future rigorous evaluations and providing guidance to other researchers in this field.

Project Resources

  • A landscape scan brief describing a framework for workforce alignment, including a range of market-aligned and student-centered program design options for college CTE programs
  • A fact sheet detailing the key dimensions of the workforce alignment framework
  • A report on the value of short-term credentials, analyzing debt and earnings for a set of CTE programs
  • A survey report profiling nursing and business programs, describing how program design strategies implemented differ across sectors and may shape student earnings outcomes
  • A fact sheet describing key themes on business programs’ efforts to engage employers
  • A visioning document summarizing key ideas that emerged in an event hosted by the Urban Institute in spring 2023 focused on imagining the future of postsecondary education, and the policy, system, and institutional changes needed to ensure that training programs are providing value to students


For additional information, please contact [email protected].

RESEARCH TEAM Shayne Spaulding, Molly Scott, Nathan Sick, Amanda Briggs, Madeleine Sirois, Jincy Wilson, and Ryan Kelsey

Research Areas Workforce
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center