Work-Based Learning

Expanding High School Work-Based Learning In The U.S.

High-quality work-based learning experiences, like internships, pre-apprenticeships and cooperative education, can help high school students earn industry credentials while in high school, build the technical and interpersonal skills they need to succeed in the workplace, and provide a pathway into the labor market. Businesses and organizations, meanwhile, benefit by cultivating a pipeline of talent with new perspectives, while the local community can realize reduced unemployment and attract new business and industry.

In recent years, states have made progress in the development and expansion of high school work-based learning programs in schools and communities, by passing laws and updating policy with respect to strategy, coordination, oversight and accountability, access and scale, funding, and continuity of programming. But a recent nationwide audit of state policy reveals that their different approaches have led to program availability and quality that is inconsistent throughout the country. That’s why American Student Assistance is on a mission to expand opportunities for high school students to gain career experience, workplace skills and an understanding of the education necessary to follow their desired career path. Working together with educators, employers, youth-serving organizations, state and federal policymakers and more, our goal is to increase the number of states committed to ensuring all youth younger than 18 have equitable access to robust, high quality work-based learning programs, with policies in place to support program funding, infrastructure, quality and accountability.

State by State Analysis

  • Green ratings indicate that a state achieved a desired state on most components of the rubric.
  • Yellow ratings indicate that a state achieved a desired state on some components of the rubric but there is room for improvement.
  • Red ratings indicate that a state did not achieve a desird state on most components of the rubric.

American Student Assistance joined with Bellwether Education Partners to conduct a state-by-state analysis of high school work-based learning policies, evaluating each state*against a rubric of 15 criteria across six categories: existence of policies, content of policies, funding, support infrastructure, quality and accountability.*Overall state rankings assigned by ASA

WBL Best Practices

Strengthening High School WBL

Policy Recommendations for States

The recommendations below can help state leaders think about how to prioritize the various elements of high-quality work-based learning programming for high school students:

  • Create formal definitions, policies and regulations around internships and work-based learning for high school students
  • Establish guidelines for providing academic credit in high school for internship work experience, and change graduation requirements where necessary
  • Ensure all high school students are eligible for WBL opportunities and eligibility isn’t restricted to students enrolled in specific programs (e.g., CTE)
  • Support access for underserved groups of students (e.g., preference for low-income students or students enrolled in low-performing schools, explicit supports for students with disabilities, transportation stipends/reimbursement, etc.)
  • Address key barriers, such as transportation, safety and workers’ compensation issues
  • Create financial incentives for employers to expand internship opportunities
  • Establish dedicated funding streams
  • Establish statewide support infrastructure, intermediary, and/or public-private partnerships
  • Establish communications infrastructure
  • Establish statewide framework that defines quality expectations for high school internships and holds employers and schools/districts accountable
  • Track student participation in internships and their outcomes, and disaggregate data by student demographics

Learn more about the above recommendations here.

Take Action

For more information or questions on expanding high school work-based learning, please contact Denver Supinger, State Policy Advocate at