It’s That Time of Year Again

High school students gather on the stairs between classes.

While recent heatwaves make it still feel like summer in most parts of the United States, many young people are embarking on the next step of their educational pathways towards their future careers and lives.

During these transition periods, which can often feel overwhelming for many young people and their families, it is critical that we take a closer look at the types of supports, resources, and knowledge young people need to successfully navigate their education and workforce pathways.

For example, we know that social capital and relationship networks play an integral role in helping students feel supported and empowered throughout their education journeys, and in enabling them to see and consider a range of education and career options. We also know that data can be a powerful tool used to help students find a good college “match” that will increase their odds of obtaining a degree or credential. And in addition to who students know and where students choose to go, there are also fundamental questions about how to best prepare them for the future, including how to expand math pathways so that students have greater access to courses such as statistics and computer science that are increasingly relevant in today’s job market. This month we highlight interesting insights and approaches in each of these areas.

We are also excited about the recent launch of the National Partnership for Student Success – a public-private partnership that builds from the evidence base on postsecondary advising, tutors, and mentors, and connects schools, educators, and communities to the supports students need. We applaud the efforts of organizations to provide the array of opportunities and supports that students need to stay on their chosen path to achieving their dreams after high school. Together we can move away from fragmented programs delivering outcomes for a few students to ensuring that all students have what they need to thrive.

In this issue of Wayfinders:

  • Need-to-know for advisors: Research shows that young people may improve their chances of completing postsecondary education based on where they choose to matriculate
  • A framework for building and measuring social capital for young people
  • Recommendations for creating seamless transitions from K-12 math to postsecondary math

Using Completion Rates to Guide Postsecondary Decision Making

New research finds where students matriculate to college matters as much as whether they do so, and changes in matriculation can have a big effect on the likelihood of eventual completion. In a new brief released by Vela Institute and the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), organizations that aim to increase equity in postsecondary opportunities for young people, researchers looked at thousands of students to examine completion rates from their postsecondary choices. Key takeaways from this research effort include:

  • Across the more than 71,000 students in the sample who enrolled in college following high school graduation, the average 150% graduation rate (completion rates that occur within or just beyond the expected finish date) for students’ first institutions was just 37.1%.
  • A large majority of students in the sample (81.3%) of students in the sample had another postsecondary institution within 50 miles of their high school that had a higher postsecondary completion rate than where the student actually matriculated.
  • On average, high schools with the largest percentages of students from low-income households had a nearby postsecondary alternative with a projected completion rate nearly 37 percentage points higher than the institution where the student first matriculated.

The analysis illuminates a lift difference – the difference in the institutional completion rates between where a student could have attended and where they actually did. Given the many factors that influence students’ postsecondary pathways, the data from this research effort suggests that advisors need to be well-informed about all of the options that students can explore after high school. For example, if students are choosing to matriculate at a four-year college nearby with low completion rates, what are the transition supports needed to help more students succeed there or choose options that align equally well with their career goals?

Interested in exploring and learning more about institutional completion rates? Check out the variation in completion rates using the interactive dashboard developed by the Vela Institute.

Helping Young People Build and Measure Social Capital

We know that a key aspect of creating meaningful career pathways lies in young people’s capacity to build social capital – meaningful professional relationships that can offer support, connections, and advice. Helping young people to build social capital is the first step–measuring these relationship networks is the next. By shifting our focus to gathering better data and information, we can learn which relationships are working for young people and iterate on this knowledge to drive better design of programs and initiatives to support students towards economic mobility. Big Picture Learning, a national nonprofit that supports internship-based learning high schools, has turned these ideas into reality with a new technology tool called ImBlaze to help schools manage work-based learning contacts and opportunities. While it was designed to create a space for students to document their own social capital through their families, communities, and other networks, ImBlaze simultaneously expands social capital as each student has visibility into their peers’ networks to explore all of the opportunities represented across their entire school community.

Big Picture’s new tool helps exemplify the four-dimensional framework suggested by Mahnaz Charania and Julia Freeland Fisher in the report from the Christensen Institute titled “The Missing Metrics,” The four dimensions measure:

  • Quantity of relationships measures who is in a student’s network over time.
  • Quality of relationships measures how students experience the relationships they are in and the extent to which those relationships are meeting their relational, developmental, and instrumental needs.
  • Structure of networks gauges the variety of people a student knows and how those people are themselves connected.
  • Ability to mobilize relationships assesses a student’s ability to seek out help when needed and to activate different relationships.

To learn more about Imblaze and receive a demonstration, click here.

Reimagining Mathematics Pathways

For too many students, the misalignment of high school and postsecondary mathematics requirements is an unnecessary barrier to students continuing their education. A new state policy scan report from ESG, The Charles A. Dana Center, and Student Achievement Partners explores middle and high school students’ progression through mathematics course sequences as well as the ways that states are creating policies to support and streamline students’ educational experiences. The findings showed that while postsecondary institutions are making strides to expand math offerings, K-12 math pathways mostly still follow outdated frameworks where the eventual goal is to enroll in calculus (which is often unnecessary for students who aren’t pursuing STEM majors). In fact, the scan revealed that nearly 1/3 of states last reviewed their math standards over 10 years ago. The misalignment between state high school graduation standards and college entrance requirements creates greater barriers for Black and Latino students as well as students from low-income households, further exacerbating other equity gaps in education and preventing them from exploring other rich math courses such as computer science and statistics.

In response, efforts are underway to bridge the gap between higher education and K12 mathematics to give young people increased opportunity. One such initiative, the Launch Years, aims to improve math learning opportunities for all students by better aligning high school mathematics pathways with students’ postsecondary and career aspirations.

Using data from the state policy scan and insights gained from stakeholder interviews and focus groups, the report recommends actionable steps that education leaders start with to reimagine their mathematics pathways. These recommendations include:

  1. Building collaborative bridges with higher education and mathematics networks
  2. Centering equity and leveraging data to dismantle systemic inequalities
  3. Highlighting smaller changes as well as larger systemic progress

By aligning students’ math pathways from their K-12 experiences through their postsecondary experiences, educators and state leaders can help ensure that young people can pursue their education and career goals.

What We’re Reading