Career-Connected Learning

CEI partners with school districts and BOCES to ensure all students have access to relevant pathways that support equitable development of skills and competencies essential for college, career, and community readiness.


Career-connected learning plays a critical role in closing opportunity gaps and supporting students, educators, and communities to create tangible and relevant experiences that promote hope and help students to build a future vision of self.

CEI supports school districts in all components of Colorado’s career-connected learning continuum and provides technical assistance and professional development services across the full life cycle from design to implementation to evaluation.

  • Program design for each career-connected learning component that prioritizes alignment across the K-12 education system, including post-secondary planning, career awareness and exploration, career preparation, career pathway development, and postsecondary career pipelines.
  • Coaching and implementation support.
  • Strategic communications and stakeholder engagement.
  • Measurement and evaluation to assess program quality, identify student outcomes, and enable continuous improvement.
  • Equity audits to explore data and structures enabling equitable access following the first year of implementation.

We partner with 79 districts and four BOCES across career-connected learning efforts including Homegrown Talent Initiative, Rural Coaction, RISE, Opportunity Now, Innovative Learning Opportunities Pilot (ILOP), Jumpstart Concurrent Enrollment, and Catalyze Middle School Pilot.


Homegrown Talent Initiative | Rural Coaction | Opportunity Now

The founding cohort of the Homegrown Talent Initiative (HTI) was a place-based investment strategy co-designed by CEI, Colorado Succeeds (CS), and key local and national philanthropists from 2019 to 2022. This has now scaled to multiple regions across the state through the Colorado Education Department’s (CDE) Rural Coaction program. HTI supports the development of lifelong learners and focuses on the design and implementation of high-quality partnerships between K-12 education, local business and industry, and higher education. HTI is grounded in the context of local community assets and needs, deploying a community-led design thinking process to develop a graduate profile and implementation plan aligned to the Career-Connected Learning Continuum. Anchored by several of the founding HTI districts, dozens of rural Colorado communities now have access to resources and technical assistance to create and sustain partnerships to develop high-quality career-connected learning programs that meet the diverse needs of their students, families, and businesses, and employ progress monitoring and program evaluation to assess impact and surface modifications that could strengthen efforts.

CEI currently supports eight Rural Coaction regions across the state: Southwest; Northeast; Fremont County; South Central; the Arkansas River Valley; West Central; Weld County; and a mountain region comprised of Summit, Grand, and Clear Creek counties. CEI acts as the primary implementation partner, providing facilitation, coaching, and networked learning opportunities. This project exemplifies CEI’s expertise in facilitating networked learning and strategic planning efforts, working deeply in unique communities to understand needs and assets, and providing data analysis and measurement support toward the following goals:

  • Improving the lives of rural students and their communities by promoting relevant and dynamic skill development and work-based learning for students.
  • Establishing shared career and technical education pathways, internship opportunities, and other career-connected learning programming across multiple districts in each region.
  • Empowering rural communities as collective champions of systems-level change in education.
  • Building momentum for future career-connected initiatives in other regions locally and nationally.
  • Continuing to change the narrative around what’s possible in rural Colorado communities.

In addition to ongoing coaching and technical assistance, districts – and now regions – continue to work with and learn from one another in a cohort model — benefiting from the knowledge and resource sharing of an expanding network of other communities leading similar but unique initiatives.

Building on the momentum and learnings from HTI and Rural Coaction, CEI supports three Opportunity Now grantees from phase one of this statewide grant program. Enacted by House Bill 22-1350 and led by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), the Opportunity Now Colorado Grant Program will award an estimated $85 million in funding to “support organizations and regional partnerships that meet workforce needs through intentional alignment and collaboration among Colorado’s employers, industry leaders, secondary and postsecondary education institutions, and workforce development and training providers.” Grant terms range from three months to three years depending on grant type (Planning, Seed, or Scale Grant).

Innovative Learning Opportunities Pilot (ILOP) Program

CEI serves as the state implementation partner for ILOP – Senate Bill 19-216, which was signed into law in 2019. ILOP enables participating districts to offer their high school students a variety of learning experiences that typically occur outside of the classroom to enrich students’ education and strengthen transitions to postsecondary education and the workforce. It is the General Assembly’s intent to increase district participation to 100 percent by the 2025-26 school year. CEI supports ILOP grantees to plan and implement career-connected learning through tailored coaching, network convenings, webinars, and ongoing networking and technical assistance.

Student participation, especially equitable student participation, is a key metric used to chart the status of ILOP programs. Primary areas of impact include:

  • Increased student participation from 100 students to just over 1,000 students from the 2020-21 to 2022-23 school year.
  • Expanded opportunities for high school students in grades 9-12 to engage in a variety of learning experiences that drive postsecondary success.

JumpStart Concurrent Enrollment

Jumpstart supports 11 Metro area school districts to leverage concurrent enrollment to address high school relevance and re-engagement. CEI partners with schools and districts to expand student engagement and success in concurrent enrollment as an equitable pathway to college and career through support focused on student, family, and staff engagement and recruitment; strategic data use; high-quality implementation; and building effective structures for students, family, and staff to better understand the broad career-connected learning system and how they can effectively navigate it.

Primary areas of impact include:

  • Increased and diversified student participation and success in concurrent enrollment.
  • Improve alignment between K-12 education and postsecondary education systems to support student interests and needs.
  • Increased school district use of concurrent enrollment as an innovative and untapped secondary policy to accelerate equitable student pathways to postsecondary and career success.


“Our internship program has grown from 4 interns two years ago, to 40 last year, 73 this year, and nearly 100 for Fall 2022. This is in direct response to receiving an ILOP grant. We are expanding the definition of ‘postsecondary readiness’ beyond our traditional college-prep mission [and] we have support from our Board and our families for this expanded WBL Initiative.”

– Charter School Institute Partner