As the new school year gets into full swing, there are more than 300 Linked Learning Pathways in more than 55 districts across the country. Today, Linked Learning is reaching more kids than ever before. This matters—not just because of numbers, but because of who we are serving.

Linked Learning is for all students. Linked Learning pathways reflect an unwavering commitment to equity and ensuring that all students, especially those furthest from opportunity, graduate from high school prepared for lasting success in college, career and life.

With this rapid expansion of the Linked Learning field, it is worth revisiting what it is that distinguishes this approach from the many other types of career pathways offered in high schools—and why we think it can make a real difference in the lives of students.

Here are some of the core principles of Linked Learning:

Preparing for College and (not or) Career. Linked Learning pathways aim to prepare students for both college and career, not just one or the other. In today’s economy, it is almost impossible to earn a living wage without some postsecondary education after high school. By design, Linked Learning pathways prepare students for the full range of postsecondary options—two- and four-year college, apprenticeship, and formal employment training.

Making High School Part of a K-College & Career Continuum. While demanding career and technical education (CTE) is an essential component of all Linked Learning pathways, Linked Learning offers students a comprehensive experience that is fully immersive. It includes: core academics (emphasizing real world application and multidisciplinary problem solving); a continuum of work-based learning opportunities, ranging from job shadowing and mentoring to paid internships and school-based enterprise; and personalized student supports that include college and career counseling, accelerated learning, and attention to social-emotional needs. In short, Linked Learning engages students where they are, while recognizing where they’ve been and helping support them in their future journeys.

Reviewing and Refining, Every Step of the Way. Linked Learning pathways are committed to continuous improvement through a tiered certification process. This includes using quality indicators, metrics and web-based tools to help pathways achieve a level of high quality implementation that research indicates will support better student outcomes.

As the Linked Learning field expands, it is ever more critical that we stay committed to high quality pathway implementation. Periodically returning to our foundational principles and reflecting on our pathways’ fidelity to the Linked Learning approach is not only good practice. It also delivers on our commitment to expand opportunity and success for all young people.