Career Ladders Project

As part of our commitment to serving diverse and disadvantaged communities, we are profiling some of our grantees serving these communities. Read our letter detailing this work here.

Career Ladders

These students at Laney College have finished a program called the b2b Learning Community, which supports former foster youth enrolling in the college. The Career Ladders Project has provided assistance and support to the program, which is designed to prepare students for a wide range of high-wage careers.


Disadvantaged students arrive at California’s community colleges with myriad challenges. They often don’t have the math or English skills to succeed. All too often, when they realize how much remedial work they need to complete before starting their college careers, they drop out, discouraged.

People like Linda Collins are trying to change that.

"We want to bring minority students into the mainstream and mobilize their skills, instead of shunting them into a remedial track,” says Collins, executive director of Career Ladders Project, a Hewlett Foundation grantee.

The largest program of the Project is its network of Career Advancement Academies, in which specialized English and math courses are taught to prepare students for careers in health care, education, and transportation. Each student receives educational support and career guidance and belongs to a small learning community that supports his or her efforts. In just three years, the Career Advancement Academies have been implemented in a third of California’s community colleges and have enrolled 5,500 students.

The Career Advancement Academies are designed to fit the needs of specific communities, based on demographics and location. At academies serving predominantly Hispanic students, bilingualism is a valued skill in career preparation. The strong tradition of skilled craft work in the Latino community is incorporated into instruction in trades such as carpentry.

Career Ladders 2

The Career Ladders Project works with Contra Costa College’s Hybrid Automotive Technician Program to prepare entry-level students for this high-wage career pathway.


In addition to the academies, Career Ladders Project has established a range of programs to provide skills that lead to college and career success for other underserved populations.

For example, the Community Colleges Pathways Project for Former Foster Youth has created a network of 13 colleges for faculty administrators to share strategies to serve the specialized needs of that student population. These students receive the emotional and academic support of a structured learning community and are eligible for funds to support their education.

Other programs address regional workforce needs. In the Bay Area, an alliance among the Career Ladders Project, Skyline College, regional biotechnology employers, and several high schools is designed to prepare students to meet the expected demand for a skilled workforce in biotechnology manufacturing.

The success of the Career Ladders Project has been striking. From 2007 to 2009, 75 percent of students in the Project’s academies have achieved course grades of A, B, C, or pass. The numbers are even more impressive because these students typically arrive unprepared for college work.