Connected Pathways

How might we create visible, flexible, alternative academic and training pathways within the DC hospitality industry?

There is much excitement in workforce development—and increasingly, higher education circles—about visualizing flexible pathways to help students make better career decisions, and with less churn. Lack of information and ways for students to test pathways can result in lost time, disconnected credentials, and financial hardship for needier populations.


The Connected Pathways initiative seeks to surface and visualize these much-needed flexible, affordable tracks to the middle class.

The Education Design Lab is engaging this work within the District of Columbia, an area of high need, and working directly with local students, educators, employers and hiring experts in hospitality.

To date, the work took us deep into the heart of a broader set of challenges: the “skills gap,” a revolution in learning pathways, the challenge of employer pipelines, and the ongoing discussion around on-the-job training and apprenticeships


During the early phases of the connected pathways challenge, conversations and pressure tests with key stakeholders helped the Lab identify the design criteria for pathways into the middle class through hospitality in DC.

Visible reflects the need for pathways to be clearly set as talent development and growth opportunities and pipelines, acknowledging that there is a connection between the employee’s engagement and a learner employee’s retention over time.  Flexible describes the ability for a model to be applied across a wide range of learners seeking middle-class pathways into hospitality, while also (potentially) serving as a bridge between industries.

Core Components

In building the set of model concepts, there were several questions the guided our exploration with students, hospitality hiring and talent experts, and educators: What combination of technical, professional, academic, and personal experiences prepares a student to excel in an entry-level position and progress? What do the employers need, and what opportunities are available to students?

For those with limited economic opportunities, educational training as a signal for investment in long-term growth not only increases retention for employers, but also offer pathways into the middle-class. For students who were unable to complete their degrees, these pathways, alongside the support from their employer and in concert with training providers, create opportunity for advancement.

As a result of our exploration, we looked towards faster tracks to associate and bachelor degrees. We considered what steps along the pathways might require academic credentials, and where an employee or student receive college credit for on the job training. Additionally, our work considered how employees prepare and signal for a role transition or promotion while contributing to degree requirements.

Recent Updates

Working across the school-to-work pipeline, the Lab is constantly reminded of the need to question whether the current multi-faceted ecosystem that links learners, institutions and employers can support changing educational models, an emerging set of credentials (e.g., digital badges) and employer needs.

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The Vision 

The Lab intends to facilitate and advise a working group of connected stakeholders to continue to bring established model concepts towards a pilot. This is especially encouraging noting that at our January convening of 40 expert stakeholders from the community, reactions to four model concepts co-created alongside a dynamic and diverse set of hospitality, education, and community stakeholders were overwhelmingly positive.  Further, they reflect not only excitement around the potential impact of implementing connected pathways models in DC, but also beyond. 90% of participants rated every model as “possibly viable” or “very viable” for a local pilot, and 72% of participants suggested that model concepts were viable for other industries or cities as well.

The learner revolution continues to manifest in a more personalized and  expansive expanded set of pathways for a learner to navigate, underscored by the results of our connected pathways work to date. At the prompting from the A recent Brooking’s Institute piece asking asks, “Has the time come for personalized higher education?,” Wwe believe the answer is yes, and anticipate learning more as we launch models to answer the question:

How might we create visible, flexible, alternative academic and training pathways within the DC hospitality industry?


New Futures



Academy of Hope

American Council on Education

Empire State College- SUNY


Kimsey Foundation

Marriott Foundation

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