Why a Career Pathways Dictionary?

Quality career pathways include a series of education and training experiences that enable individuals to grow their skills and progress through a range of steps in their education and career. The goals of the Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary include:

  • Equipping practitioners and policymakers with information and tools to implement high-quality college and career pathways that span education, workforce development, and employment
  • Aligning terminology and definitions for programming throughout the education and workforce pipeline to promote consistency and quality for students and participants

Since the Dictionary was first published in 2018, career pathway policy and practices (including the 2022 passage of Public Act 102-0917; HB3296) have evolved. Thus, an interagency group re-convened to revisit the Dictionary and make relevant updates. This website serves as the most up-to-date version of the Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary, including definitional updates, links to resources, and implementation guidance.

Policy and Context

College and Career Pathways in Federal and State Policy

For over a decade, education and workforce practitioners and policy leaders have been working to develop and implement high-quality career pathways to serve youth and adults across the education and workforce pipeline. Federally, this included advancing career pathways concepts through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act for secondary and postsecondary education, as well as through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in the workforce development arena. In Illinois, the State enshrined college and career pathways through the landmark Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act of 2016, and further embedded these principles in State plans for education (the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA – and Perkins) and the State’s workforce plan under WIOA.

The statewide and national efforts to promote quality career pathways through policy has also happened in parallel to extensive work in communities across the country to develop and implement quality pathways that combine education and training to lead to progressively higher levels of education and training to empower their youth and adults. A great deal of the pathways policy innovations both nationally and within Illinois have come as a result of the innovation of these local practitioners.

Current Illinois Pathways Policy

The following are key examples of where career pathways show up in Illinois state policy throughout the P-20 education and workforce development pipeline.

Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness Act

Enacted with bipartisan support in 2016, the Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act implements four student-centered, competency-based college and career readiness strategies that require coordinated efforts among school districts, postsecondary education institutions, employers, and other public and private organizations. One of these cornerstone PWR Act strategies is the College and Career Pathway Endorsement (CCPE) framework. High schools across Illinois have begun to implement CCPE, which enables their graduates to earn an Endorsement on their high school diploma and transcript by completing an individualized learning plan, engaging in a career-focused instructional sequence (including early college credit), participating in work-based learning, and demonstrating readiness for college-level reading and math. Students earning the CCPE develop technical and essential employability competencies, earn in-demand credentials, and are prepared to launch rewarding careers. 

Beyond the CCPE, the PWR Act’s Postsecondary and Career Expectations (PaCE) framework and transitional instruction components also serve as critical levers for developing and scaling college and career pathways at the secondary level. PaCE outlines what types of experiences and information a student should have to make the most informed decisions about college and career planning, and transitional instruction serves to ensure students are prepared for credit-bearing coursework at the postsecondary level.

Dual Credit Quality Act & the Model Partnership Agreement

Early college credit is a critical acceleration strategy for career pathways that start at the secondary level and are structured to support student progressions to and through postsecondary. The Dual Credit Quality Act  (DCQA) (110 ILCS 27/1 et seq.) resulted in the landmark Model Partnership Agreement (MPA) that was adopted in 2019 by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Community College Board. The MPA provides a thoughtfully crafted baseline to guide local partnerships between school districts and community colleges so they can implement dual credit in a way that ensures rigor, relevance, and equity. The MPA prioritizes core academic courses aligned with the Illinois Articulation Initiative as well as career pathway courses structurally and through funding mechanisms.

Every Student Succeeds Act: College and Career Readiness Indicator

Illinois’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan includes the College and Career Readiness Indicator (CCRI) in the school accountability framework. The CCRI is a multiple-factor approach to measuring student readiness upon high school graduation. While students earning CCPE under the PWR Act will automatically be considered ready under the CCRI, several components of career pathways are also independently considered college readiness and career readiness measures.

Career & Technical Education & the Perkins V State Plan

The core goal of the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins V) is to develop the academic knowledge and technical and employability skills of secondary and postsecondary students. The Illinois Perkins V Plan advances core principles and strategies related to career pathways, including career-focused instruction and work-based learning. In addition, the Illinois Community College Board sponsored the development of Model Programs of Study Guides in crucial industry areas, which involved extensive research into labor market information and credential programs, and dialogue across secondary, postsecondary, and employer stakeholders. The guides align with the CCPE under the PWR Act and provide guidance for how to implement thoughtful secondary-to-postsecondary pathways that are aligned to industry needs.

Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act State Plan

Career pathways are a critical strategy promoted through federal workforce funding under the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA). In Illinois’ State Plan, this is further advanced through Strategy 3: Provide Economic Advancement for All Populations through Career Pathways. As outlined by the state’s workforce leaders, “State and regional sector initiatives will provide the foundation for sector-based career pathway initiatives that expand career and educational opportunities for students and workers, including those facing multiple barriers to employment to achieve economic advancement.” These programs, which reach a broad range of WIOA customers, meet employers’ current skill needs and offer individuals clear opportunities to build and upgrade their skills, earn industry-recognized credentials, and advance their careers over time.

History of the Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary

In 2017–18, Illinois leaders came together to define the term “career pathways” and related terms. At the time, there was a recognition that policymakers, practitioners, and advocates alike needed greater clarity and alignment in the language they were using within their sectors to describe their career pathways-related work. Ultimately, this definitional work was finalized through the Workforce Readiness through Apprenticeships and Pathways (WRAP) Committee of the Governor’s Cabinet Children and Families, which included members from across state education and workforce agencies. These definitions were developed and refined through research, stakeholder engagement, and thoughtful alignment to a variety of efforts. Representatives of key State entities and committees pertaining to Illinois’s broader education and workforce systems thoroughly reviewed each definition.

Beyond finalizing the Illinois definition of career pathways that was formally ratified by the relevant State boards, WRAP worked to align and clarify related concepts and terminology, including the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act’s components around College and Career Pathway Endorsements (CCPE), the College and Career Readiness Indicator (CCRI) included in the school accountability framework of the State’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding, Adult Education Bridge Programs, and Integrated Career and Academic Preparedness Systems. 

The resulting Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary was launched during Apprenticeship Week in November 2018 as a one-stop document containing the core terms, implementation guidance, and general policy context. The Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary has been celebrated by national partners, including Jobs for the Future and the National Governor’s Association, as an innovative example of statewide collaboration and alignment.


The following State agencies and entities provided valuable leadership in developing and updating the current version of the Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary:

The following partners were deeply involved with the original iteration of the Illinois Career Pathways Dictionary, and we extend our appreciation to their work as well: