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Walton Family Foundation to Support Career-Connected Learning for Thriving Young People

November 4, 2021
More than $20 million invested in regional collaborations, national competitions and new partnerships

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Nov. 4, 2021 — The Walton Family Foundation today announced $20 million of investments to non-profit organizations to increase the number of students experiencing quality real-world learning opportunities connected to future work. Career-connected learning is an important facet of the foundation’s Strategy 2025 goal to accelerate opportunity and economic mobility for all children, especially those most in need.

Young people want educational experiences that help them build the skills, habits and mindsets to prepare them for lifelong success. As four-year college enrollment declines and interest in two-year college and full-time employment grows, it is increasingly important to reinvent onramps to opportunity for students. This complex and dynamic environment requires moving beyond the traditional construct of study-then-work to a study-and-work approach that more directly links education to jobs.

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Donielle Lee

“Unleashing the potential of every young person means having pathways for students to connect with and develop their passions and interests earlier on and more meaningfully,” said Romy Drucker, interim director of the Walton Family Foundation's K-12 Education program. “We are thrilled to be supporting innovative and collaborative organizations that are transforming the approaches and platforms that help students navigate into meaningful careers that bring them economic security and a sense of fulfillment.”

Making this vision a reality requires community-driven and cross-sector collaboration across K-12 schools, higher education institutions and employers. Currently, 10.4 million jobs are unfilled and more than 8.4 million unemployed individuals are seeking work, a stark imbalance as Americans reassess the role and meaning of work in their lives amid a global pandemic. These shifts in the nation’s labor market require employers to create new and different approaches to cultivating, recruiting and retaining talent.

The diversity of grants reflects new, novel approaches to expand career-connected learning – optimizing the transition between school and work for the next generation. The foundation collaborates closely with other funders on this work, learning from and working alongside organizations like American Student Assistance, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles Koch Institute and Grantees include:

  • Regional organizations like CityWorks in Washington, D.C., and EmployIndy in Indianapolis, Ind., that are launching new programs and increasing cross-sector coordination.
  • New America’s Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, which elevates promising practices in states and cities.
  • The Catalyze Challenge, which today announced 15 winners that will receive $4 million to scale a wide range of ideas related to career-connected learning.
  • Urban Alliance, which is working directly with employers to increase their participation in this career pathways work.

WeThrive, a Catalyze Challenge winner, is a work-based learning program that helps youth launch and run real businesses. “Young people today are capable of more than any other generation, but too many are locked out of direct participation in the economy,” said Daquan Oliver, CEO and founder. “We need a generation of leaders to revitalize not just the economy but also their communities as a whole. Real-world learning and practice uniquely provide the methods of engaging, identifying and elevating youth to accomplish this goal.”

The foundation also supports integrated approaches to career-connected learning and employment in its home region of Northwest Arkansas. There, grantees work with local businesses, high schools and community colleges to provide future employees with mentorship, training and upskilling opportunities.

About the Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.