Direct Care Workers Pathways Program: A Strategy for Seamless Academic Progression


  • Linda S Larrivee Worcester State University
  • Stephanie M Chalupka Worcester State University
  • Marilyn A Cleary Worcester State University
  • Cherie L Comeau Worcester State University



nontraditional students; academic partnerships; academic pathways; intrusive advising; incumbent workers; healthcare professionals


Nationally, there is a great demand for systems that meet the needs of local employers as well as develop tools and training for their incumbent workers. Concurrently, demand for healthcare professionals is growing and projected to continue for the next decade. Worcester State University created the “Direct Care Workforce Development Program” to offer a pathway for nontraditional-aged students in direct care positions to advance to higher-level jobs with family sustaining wages. Direct care workers (DCWs) (e.g., patient care assistant) encounter challenges in a quest to continue their education. They may be non-native speakers, lack a foundation in basic numeracy skills, or lack experience with technology. Therefore, DCWs require many support services for success in professional health-studies programs. In response, a partnership emerged between an urban medical center, state university, and labor union to provide academic pathways for DCWs to progress in careers through higher education. Two cohorts of DCWs from the medical center enrolled in the program, which provided courses totaling nine college credits. Career maps, containing action steps towards goals, and individual coaching helped DCWs define their aspirations. Many workers who completed the program matriculated into two and four-year professional programs, while others plan to do so in the future.

Author Biographies

Linda S Larrivee, Worcester State University

Dean of the School of Education, Health, and Natural Sciences

Stephanie M Chalupka, Worcester State University

Professor of Nursing

Marilyn A Cleary, Worcester State University

Assistant Dean of the Division of Graduate and Continuing Education

Cherie L Comeau, Worcester State University

Director of the Center for Business and Industry



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