Middle-Skill STEM Pathways Initiative

With generous support from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Achieving the Dream, with technical assistance support from Jobs for the Future, is working with colleges and their state policy partners to create or strengthen middle-skill STEM pathways.  Through this effort, Achieving the Dream seeks to help colleges and states better align their college completion and middle-skill STEM agenda in both practice and policy. During the first phase of this four-year initiative,  Achieving the Dream worked with three colleges – Miami Dade, Norwalk Community College and Cuyahoga Community College to enhance their middle-skill STEM pathways through a STEM Regional Collaboratives model (close partnerships between colleges, local employers, community organizations, P-12 schools and others). 

Currently, the initiative has expanded to include a total of 18 colleges in four states.  Six colleges are running STEM Regional Collaboratives, and the remaining colleges are part of Middle-Skill STEM Learning Communities in three states – Connecticut, Ohio and Virginia.  These learning communities will serve as peer-learning engines that bring together multiple colleges in each state to facilitate their implementation of highly structured middle-skill STEM pathways. The In-State Learning Communities will capitalize on the learnings and models for building STEM pathways resulting from the six STEM Regional Collaboratives and on the states' abilities to drive adoption and spread through state policy.

Over the course of the grant, Achieving the Dream and Jobs for the Future will assist the colleges in:

  • Strengthening high demand, middle-skill STEM pathways;
  • Improving regional coordination among community colleges and their workforce partners;
  • Informing state leaders on policy changes that can support stronger STEM pathways; and
  • Fostering cross-state learning and collaboration.

The STEM Regional Collaborative and Learning Communities will broadly engage statewide constituents in experimenting with and sharing new approaches to teaching and learning and workforce pathways. The learnings from this collaborative will be shared broadly throughout the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network and the Postsecondary State Policy Network to accelerate scalable, sustainable strategies that align the STEM and college completion policy agenda.

  Connecticut Florida Ohio  Virginia
Original STEM Regional Collaboratives Norwalk Community College Miami Dade College Cuyahoga Community College N/A
New STEM Regional Collaboratives Housatonic Community College St. Petersburg College Zane State College N/A
STEM Learning Communities

Manchester Community College

Asnuntuck Community College

Naugatuck Valley Community College

Middlesex Community College

Norwalk Community College

Three Rivers Community College

Quinebaug Valley Community College


Central Ohio Technical College

Stark State College

Lorain County Community College

Virginia Western Community College

Thomas Nelson Community College

Northern Virginia Community College



  • The seven Connecticut community colleges participating in ATD’s Middle-Skill STEM Pathways Initiative met on September 16, 2016 for nuts-and-bolts conversations about applying lessons from implementing guided pathways to pathways specifically focused on STEM majors.

    This presentation was made by a representative from St. Petersburg College discussing the college’s experiences building guided pathways. As members of a STEM pathways-focused learning community, the Connecticut colleges have been sharing information with their peers. The initiative’s focus now shifts to putting that information to work. 

    Resource Files

    ct_pathways_spc_sept_2016.pdf2.87 MB
  • This call to action is based on a simple but important premise: The nation cannot allow placement policies, processes, and instruments to undermine promising efforts to increase student success in mathematics and increase attainment of STEM credentials. Efforts to redesign math pathways hold great promise for improving the teaching and learning experiences of students who need college algebra—many of whom are STEM students—and helping those students persist toward and maintain STEM aspirations. But placement policies, processes, and instruments have not kept pace with math redesign efforts.

    The nation needs more students prepared for STEM jobs—particularly low-income students, students of color, and underprepared students who historically have not had equitable access to preparation for and on-ramps to well-paying, dynamic STEM careers. To meet this need, mathematics course pathways must be a lever for helping students maintain and even increase their STEM aspirations. At the moment, however, far too many math courses—especially developmental math courses—serve as a serious obstacle and even deterrent to STEM-interested students seeking STEM credentials.

    In response, many colleges and state policymakers are creating differentiated developmental and gateway math pathways. The goal is to target the math needs of particular academic programs and then improve teaching, learning, and support in those differentiated math classes. In the end, s tudents who need algebra—many of whom are STEM students—will be in a redesigned math class better customized to their needs. Similarly, students in programs that do not require college algebra can take an alternative pathway— such as statistics or quantitative reasoning—that is better suited to their programs’ needs.

    Many colleges and states are implementing differentiated math pathways, but placement policies, processes, and supports have not kept up with the pace of change. As a result, students are being placed into math classes through methods that do not align with the content of, or that do no t effectively predict or support success in, differentiated math pathways. Some of the workarounds in place may in fact be closing the door to STEM opportunities for students.

    This call to action is designed to encourage states and colleges to analyze and revise their math placement policies, processes, and supports to ensure that STEM-interested students are properly placed into an onramp leading to well-taught math courses that maintain—and even increase—their STEM aspirations

    Resource Files

  • Success in Real-Time: Using Real-Time Labor Market Information to Build Better Middle-Skill STEM Pathways encourages states to support their colleges as they use high-quality, real-time labor market information to align the creation of middle-skill STEM pathways with robust career opportunities, and provides recommendations and examples for how states can do so. This brief stems directly from Achieving the Dream (ATD) and Jobs for the Future's (JFF) work with the STEM Regional Collaboratives and their state lead organizations. With generous support from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, ATD and JFF have worked with community colleges to build supportive pathways that lead students directly into exciting STEM careers in their local labor markets, a process that relies upon the improved data now available through real-time labor market information.  

    Resource Files

  • In the fall of 2013, Achieving the Dream (ATD) and Jobs for the Future (JFF) began examining how state policy can enable more community college students to earn credentials that provide access to robust and well-paying career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In particular, ATD and JFF focused on the role community colleges can play in building supportive pathways for students who might otherwise struggle to complete STEM programs of study. With generous support from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and through intensive collaboration with colleges and state policymakers, our organizations have created this Middle-Skill STEM State Policy Framework to help states advance the creation of middle-skill STEM pathways and incent students to enter and complete these pathways.

    The document includes:

    • A proposal for how to advance the community college middle-skill STEM agenda—and increase the likelihood of successful outcomes for students seeking credentials that will provide them entry into middle-skill STEM jobs
    • A description of the middle-skill STEM opportunity and challenge in greater detail
    • A summary of the growing evidence base on what it will take to redesign community college pathways—including STEM pathways—to be more efficient and effective for their students
    • A framework for state policy agenda that aligns with this evidence base

    An executive summary is also available on this page.

  • Recent research has helped shift the national understanding of the opportunities presented by Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, drawing attention to the large number of STEM jobs that require less than a Bachelor’s degree. The data have also highlighted the critical importance of community colleges as a primary provider of college access for large numbers of low-income students, first generation students, and students of color. The result is a growing national recognition that, with new approaches and support for reform, community colleges can be a launching pad for many more individuals to high-paying, quality careers in STEM fields, and an
    effective avenue for improving equity. 

    To address this opportunity, Achieving the Dream, Inc. and Jobs for the Future launched the STEM Regional Collaboratives initiative in Fall 2013 with support from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Through a competitive request for proposal process, ATD and JFF selected three applicants: Cuyahoga Community College in partnership with the Ohio Association of Community Colleges; Miami Dade College in partnership with the Florida College System; and Norwalk Community College in partnership with the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education.

    This document provides a reflection of the collaboratives' progress throughout the first year of the grant.

    Resource Files

    STEM-Reflective-100914.pdf2.98 MB
  • A series of cross-collaborative questions to foster discussion.

    Resource Files

  • Presentation of the initial STEM pathways and the proposed reforms for the three regions:

    • Cuyahoga Community College and Ohio Association of Community Colleges
    • Norwalk Community College and Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education
    • Miami Dade College and the Florida College System

    Resource Files

  • Presentation by Mary Wright of JFF for the STEM Kick Off Session at the DREAM Institute 2014 which used labor market information to validate STEM pathways.

    Resource Files

  • Presentation by Lara Couturier of JFF highlights the STEM opportunities and the initiative's activities and deliverables.

    Resource Files

  • Names and contacts of those attending initial STEM meeting on February 24, 2014 at the DREAM Institute

    Resource Files

    STEM_participant_list Feb 24 2014.pdf365.54 KB
  • STEM Regional Collaborative teams attended a kickoff meeting on February 24, 2014, in conjunction with the DREAM Institute. Attending teams participated in collaborative planning and learn how to validate their STEM pathways with real-time labor market information.

    Resource Files

    STEM agenda Feb 24 2014.pdf444.24 KB
  • The STEM Regional Collaboratives is an exciting opportunity for states and community colleges to advance their state and local goals for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and employment.

    This opportunity features activities designed to strengthen high demand,  middle-skill STEM pathways; improve regional coordination
    among community colleges and their workforce partners; inform state leaders on policy changes that can support stronger STEM pathways; and foster cross-state learning and collaboration.  Overall, this effort will help states and colleges to better align the college
    completion and middle-skill STEM agendas in practice and policy.


    Resource Files

    STEM_RFP.pdf439.73 KB

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