You are here

Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin FAQ

The information below is designed to address ongoing questions related to Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin and its implementation.

General Information

What is the Wisconsin project and its goals? Wisconsin submitted a project, titled Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin, that will work with 20 pre-selected pilot high schools to develop a capacity-building model that enables them to “unlock” the state’s existing programs, resources, and partnerships connected to the Academic and Career Planning (ACP) program (which addresses Key 1) and the Regional Career Pathways (RCP) approach (which addresses Keys 2-4).

In terms of structural goals, Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin has two:

➤ To develop a career-readiness capacity-building model that will assist high schools, especially economically disadvantaged high schools, to implement Academic and Career Planning (ACP) to address Key 1 and to offer Regional Career Pathways (RCPs) to address Keys 2-4. All Wisconsin schools have access to these programs, but the schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students and rural schools have the hardest time implementing them because they simply do not have the capacity. By working with the pilot schools, the plan is to build a model that will empower high schools to surmount the obstacles that have historically hindered their access to and use of existing resources.

Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin focuses on addressing the barriers to implementing these two programs for small, rural schools and schools with a significant population of economically disadvantaged students so that students are able to access these opportunities.

➤ To create a statewide K-12 career-readiness system by institutionalizing a state team. This team would bring together large institutions and organizations necessary to coordinate career pathways: mainly, state agencies, institutions of higher learning, business and industry, and regional economic development organizations.

How much is the grant? Wisconsin was awarded a grant of $1,475,000 per year for three years with a possibility of receiving an additional two years of funding based on performance. The project will be implemented through 20 pilot schools, serving a total of 10,149 students, with each school receiving up to $45,000/year for project implementation. In addition, pilot schools will be matched with mentor schools that will provide guidance and support, with each mentor school receiving up to $5,000/year.

Who sponsored the grant? Unlocking Career Success is an interagency initiative that reimagines how our nation’s high schools prepare all students to thrive in their future careers. The initiative blurs the lines between high school, college, and career, providing students with accelerated and innovative opportunities to earn college credits and gain real-world career experiences.

This joint effort across the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Commerce will support public and private sector leaders, government agencies, and other community-based organizations to help students earn postsecondary degrees and industry credentials that our employers need, and our economy demands. At the Department of Education, it involves the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) and is authorized under the Perkins Innovation and Modernization (PIM) grant program.

The aim of the federal grant program is to identify, support, and rigorously evaluate evidence-based and innovative strategies and activities to improve and modernize career and technical education (CTE) and ensure workforce skills taught in CTE programs funded under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins V), align with labor market needs.

The grant requires grantees to address the development of the Four Keys:

Key 1: Career advising and navigation
Key 2: Dual enrollment
Key 3: Work-based learning
Key 4: Workforce credentials

In keeping with grant requirements, grantees also focus on underrepresented students, particularly socioeconomically disadvantaged families, rural areas, and underrepresented groups.

How many organizations applied for the federal grant, and how many were awarded? The U.S. Department of Education received more than 160 eligible entries from 43 states and the District of Columbia, with requests totaling over $860M. From that group, 19 entries were selected.

Who did you partner with on the grant? The following organizations, including public and private sector leaders, government agencies, and other community-based organizations, have committed to partnering with us on the grant. These groups will help students obtain the four keys that are central to this grant, that our employers need, and that our economy demands:

Key 1: Career advising and navigation
Key 2: Dual enrollment
Key 3: Work-based learning
Key 4: Workforce credentials

  • GPS Education Partners
  • Inspire Wisconsin
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University
  • Milwaukee Area Technical College
  • Milwaukee7 Economic Development
  • Northwood Technical College
  • Pathways Wisconsin
  • Universities of Wisconsin
  • UW-Stevens Point, KEEP Wisconsin
  • Visions Northwest Economic Development
  • Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges & Universities
  • Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
  • Wisconsin Technical College System
  • Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
    • Youth Apprenticeship
    • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
  • Wisconsin Technical College System

What if I know of an organization that wants to get involved? Contact the grant’s DPI project manager, Karin Smith, and she will take it from there.

Pilot Schools

Who are the pilot high schools? The 20 pilot high schools were identified in the grant. All 20 schools have confirmed their participation; however, we currently have 19 pilot schools since one of original pilots will now be a mentor high school:

  • Alma Center-Humbird-Merrillan School District
    • Lincoln Jr./Sr. High School
  • Ashland High School
  • Beloit Memorial High School
  • Bayfield High School
  • Boscobel Middle/High School
  • Frederic High School
  • Gresham High School
  • Luck High School
  • Menominee Indian High School
  • Milwaukee Public Schools
    • Alexander Hamilton High School
    • Bay View High School
    • Harold S. Vincent High School
    • Riverside University High School
    • South Division High School
  • North Crawford High School
  • Suring High School
  • Tigerton High School
  • Winter High School
  • Wonewoc-Center High School

How were the pilot schools selected? An announcement was distributed using several of DPI’s listservs, asking interested parties to complete a form before midnight on September 27, 2023. While the timeline was tight, interest was high with 189 schools meeting the deadline.

These schools were reviewed to meet the following selection criteria: economically disadvantaged percentage, locale, and native American tribal affiliation. Schools with a minimum of 51 percent economically disadvantaged population were forwarded to the DPI Research and Policy Department for final selection and impartial judgment. The final selection criteria consisted of: schools with CTE departments, schools serving tribal students, and locale by 60 percent rural and 40 percent urban.

The grant required that pilot schools be identified in the grant application.
Mentor Schools

Who are the mentor schools, and how are they being chosen?
Mentors have not been selected yet. A number of factors have been considered in matching mentor schools with pilot schools. Mentor schools have a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, the same type of locale (rural, urban, suburban) as the pilot, and show high performance on the four keys that were part of the grant:

➤ Career advising and navigation (Academic and Career Planning)
➤ Dual enrollment (Regional Career Pathways)
➤ Work-based learning (Regional Career Pathways)
➤ Workforce credentials (Regional Career Pathways)

State Team

How will the state team facilitate Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin?
The state team will create opportunities and strategies to increase dual enrollment, work-based learning, and industry-recognized credentials for high schools by the end of the grant period. The state team will start with these three goals:

➤ Develop a comprehensive employer engagement strategy, equipping districts with the tools they need to connect students to meaningful work-based and career-based learning experiences using a partner portal.
➤ Create a professional development plan to assist CTE educators to become eligible to teach workforce credentials.
➤ Establish statewide communications strategies for dual enrollment, ensuring that students across Wisconsin are informed and empowered to pursue college-level courses.


How will pilot school districts benefit from Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin?
Regular collaboration among all participating project partners, pilot high schools, and mentors will offer opportunities to share progress, address challenges, and celebrate successes. Virtual quarterly meetings to convene all partners and schools will provide a platform for ongoing communication and knowledge exchange. In addition, an annual in-person summit will offer a deeper level of collaboration and networking opportunities.

The grant also will allow for the development of resources for the pilot schools: curricula, communications, career-readiness badges, certificates, and training, for example. Resources will be developed in the process of creating a capacity-building model for delivering the four keys. These resources will ultimately be available for all school districts.

What will the long-term impacts be for all Wisconsin schools?
The Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin initiative aims to serve as a model for transforming Wisconsin’s educational landscape by equipping students with the skills, knowledge, and opportunities necessary to thrive in their chosen careers. As a result, high schools that adopt the model can expect:

➤ Increased student engagement and enthusiasm for academic and career planning and regional career pathway programs (referred to as the four keys listed above)

➤ Greater equity in access to career-related opportunities for all students, including those from underserved populations

➤ A workforce better prepared to meet the needs of Wisconsin's industries

➤ A transformation of high schools into hubs of career exploration and preparation, fostering a culture of lifelong learning

More broadly, the overarching goal of the grant is to foster students’ motivation to learn. Research indicates that when students perceive the learning environment is a place where they “belong” and “when the environment promotes their sense of agency and purpose,” motivation increases markedly. Unlocking Pathways Wisconsin is designed to address these needs by helping students understand how their classroom learning can apply to their own future career and education goals, thus creating a higher sense of belonging and engagement.

By unlocking pathways to success, this project envisions a brighter future for all of Wisconsin, where students are supported in achieving their dreams and contributing to the prosperity of their communities and the state as a whole. Together, we will pave the way for a thriving workforce and a stronger Wisconsin.


For questions about this information, contact Karin Smith (608) 267-3161