Accelerating Seamless Pathways for Young People to Achieve Their Dreams

Artwork: LaDasia Bryant

Along with my colleagues at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and our many partners and grantee organizations, we are entering the summer trying to balance several things at once: a return to in-person work, planning for the next school year, and a renewed determination to help more young people move forward with purpose and support to achieve their life and career goals. Yet all balancing acts can feel minor in the face of heartbreaking events such as racially-motivated violence in our society. As we witness these events, and mourn the lives lost, the changes we are working on to ensure education systems are inclusive and work for everyone can sometimes feel frustratingly insufficient compared to the larger work we need to do as a society to prevent violence and create a sense of belonging for all. 

However, we know that young people, no matter how heartbreaking the news can be, are immensely resilient and courageous enough to pursue their dreams through good times and bad. We know, from our research, that young people universally aspire to adult lives that include financial stability, personal choice, and the ability to make meaningful contributions to their communities. And even though the pandemic has put the brakes on the goals and continued education of many students, especially Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds, we must continue our work of supporting all those who typically receive less support transitioning between high school and college and into the workforce. Their resilience and courage—and the fact that one million fewer students are enrolled in college now than before the pandemic began—demand that our best efforts continue.

Fortunately, there are promising cross-sector initiatives across the country—from dual enrollment models to career and technical education (CTE) and other work-based learning opportunities—helping to streamline the pathway from high school to college and beyond. The most successful have led to improved college transition, persistence, and completion outcomes, and share a focus on helping students figure out their occupational aspirations, build social capital, and acquire relevant work experience.

Inspired by these examples, we asked ourselves: What if every high school student had the chance to take an additional year of courses related to their interests and earn enough credits to complete their associate degree one year after high school while gaining valuable experience and career preparation – at little to no cost? And how can we reach that goal faster by accelerating great work already happening in the field?

In this issue of Wayfinders, we are proud to announce that we have selected the grantees of our new initiative, Accelerate ED: Seamless Pathways to Degrees and Careers, to help us answer those questions. With Accelerate ED, we sought to identify partners in diverse communities across the country to give high school students the opportunity to take an additional year of courses related to their interests and earn enough credits to complete their associate degree one year after high school. This additional year is intended to help students gain valuable experience and career preparation, at little to no cost to them. 

The 12 teams selected to participate in this Accelerate ED initiative include representatives from K-12 and higher education systems, employers, and youth-focused community-based organizations that are committed to aligning on common goals for what experiences and opportunities all students should have in grades 9-13 and identifying innovative ways to increase access to reach all students. You can learn more about the Accelerate ED initiative and the grantees here and read about the initiative in the The 74 here. We are beyond excited to support these organizations in the future, and to share their stories with you as they work to build stronger transitions between high school and college so young people can make their life aspirations come true.  

With gratitude for your partnership,

Sara Allan

Also in this issue of Wayfinders:

  • A new library of examples to highlight how education leaders have used recovery funding to strengthen transitions to postsecondary opportunities;
  • A new resource to help more young people benefit from taking a service year to contribute to causes they care about and invest in their professional growth.

Spotlighting Innovation in Support for Postsecondary Transitions

As district and state leaders continue to rebuild education systems hurt by the pandemic, they are finding new ways to share creative and tested ways with each other to help young people navigate the pathways from high school to postsecondary credentials and beyond. In January 2021, the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan to help businesses and education systems and other entities recover from the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after that, Education Strategy Group, through a collaborative effort called Invest Forward, released the Pathways Playbook to provide state and district leaders with a resource to help identify impactful investments to strengthen postsecondary education and training pathways. 

Recently, the Invest Forward initiative, with the help of Chiefs for Change, a membership organization for education leaders, released a Spotlight Library to highlight the real-life examples of how education leaders are utilizing recovery funds to help young people navigate the often complicated transitions between high school and college. In the library, for example, you can read about how education leaders in Dallas, TX are tackling the so-called “summer melt” – the significant drop off of high school graduates who have been accepted to college, but for a variety of reasons, end up not enrolling and attending. Through a combination of strategies that include additional mentoring support, career counseling, and dual enrollment programs, education leaders are able to share their examples of how to keep more young people on track to achieving their career and life goals. If you’re an education leader and you have found innovative ways to strengthen support for student pathways to postsecondary education and you’re interested in sharing your experience, you can submit your ideas here.  

Strengthening Service Years as a Postsecondary Option

Service years after high school can provide a transformational experience for young people. In addition to skill development and social networking, service years are an opportunity for young people to experience a unique type of personal growth and find their path to success. In a project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Service Year Alliance set out to identify and elevate strategies to engage, recruit, and support more individuals after high school in a service year, particularly those from racially diverse backgrounds and lower-income households. Using baseline data from over 60 programs that help young people do a service year, plus a landscape scan, Service Year Alliance created a toolkit and curricula to help define what a quality service year looks like and to address the barriers that many young people face to taking a service year after high school.  

The resources developed by Service Year Alliance include the toolkit, Engaging Individuals After High School in Service Years, as well as a Corps Member Curriculum, Strengthening Service Years as a Postsecondary Option, which aims to help service program leaders foster a belonging culture, incorporate an asset-based framework, and enhance intentional skill building. Service program leaders can also review a trainer’s guide to learn how to embed the curriculum into their existing program model. 

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