Wayfinders: Keeping the Pathways Open

As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, research on how the pandemic is affecting important steps in young people’s career pathways continues to paint an alarming picture. Simply put, fewer young people are going to college. And while college is not the only pathway to young people’s future success, postsecondary credentials are often a critical factor in helping young people to move forward on the career pathways they envision for themselves. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment declined by 3.4% in 2020 and by 3.2% in the fall of 2021. Taken together, these numbers represent approximately one million fewer young people who are attending college than in previous years.

While the news is bleak, it also heightens the urgency of supporting more young people, particularly Black and Latino young people, and young people from low-income backgrounds, to succeed in their education, their careers, and in their life goals. Nonprofit organizations, government leaders, advocates, and funders are all stepping up to ensure that good ideasresources, and encouraging stories are available for young people to learn about and access the employment and educationexperiences most meaningful to them. And even though so many of us are understandably feeling the collective weight of stress and grief after battling a pandemic for many months, we can look to the stories of young people and the adults who support them for continued inspiration and hope. You can find stories like this through this newsletter and on the newly-renovated Equitable Futures website.

In this month’s Wayfinders:

  • An exciting new grant opportunity from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance partnerships that help more young people earn college credits during high school and accelerate their path towards a degree;
  • A new tool to assess the value of postsecondary education at more than 4,000 colleges and universities;
  • Two ways to hear directly from young people to help inform more youth-centered program design;
  • And finally, a collection of articles we’re reading this month.

Accelerating Seamless Pathways to Degrees and Careers

What if students in every high school had the opportunity to take an additional year of courses related to a career of their interest, earn enough college credits to finish an associate degree by year 13, and be well-prepared for a great job or further education towards a bachelor’s degree — all at no cost?

This vision is possible, but unfortunately millions of students currently lack access to quality career-connected learning opportunities and supports that allow them to make informed decisions about their future and successfully transition from high school to postsecondary and into the workforce.

Across the country, K-12 districts, higher education institutions, employers, nonprofits and community leaders are working together to co-design pathway models that start in high school and offer integrated career-connected courses and work experiences that lead to a postsecondary credential of value by the end of high school. Now is the time to accelerate this work and extend these opportunities to all students.

Frontline Solutions is coordinating a new grant opportunity from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which also supports Equitable Futures, and by extension, this newsletter). The new funding opportunity, called Accelerate[ED], will support up to 12 regional design teams of stakeholders from the K-12 and postsecondary systems to design accessible career pathways that support students in earning 30 college credits by the end of high school and guide students into career-aligned courses, leading to an associate degree by the 13th year.

On behalf of the Foundation, Frontline is requesting proposals from organizations engaged in scaling career connected accelerated postsecondary pathways efforts at the regional and state level with a focus on serving Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds. These pathways should be aligned to regional workforce sectors that have strong demand and paths to economic mobility. Learn more here, and sign up for the upcoming webinar on December 2, 2021 at 9 a.m. PT here.

Exploring the Value of College

A postsecondary education is still one of the best ways young people can achieve economic mobility through greater access to jobs with higher earning potential. However, the benefits of a postsecondary degree are not equal for all. For Black and Latino young people, and young people from low-income backgrounds, a college degree does not always result in a clear economic return on their investment of time and money. Even while institutions are improving their practices in examining completion and transfer success numbers and translating that into action, inequities in college attainment and earning disparities have prompted an increasing number of students and families to question the value of a higher education.

Earlier this month, the Institute for Higher Education Policy announced the Equitable Value Explorer, a new data tool based on the Postsecondary Value Commission’s framework released in a report earlier this year. The tool was designed to help institutional leaders, researchers, and policymakers better understand the economic value that colleges and universities deliver to students and illuminate which students are getting ahead, which are just getting by, and which are falling behind. To better understand current student outcomes, see existing gaps for how well they are serving specific student populations, and use that information to change policies and practices in ways that will lead to more equitable value for students, institutions must first know the numbers. Check out the Equitable Value Explorer here.

Listening and Learning From Young People

Young people have a lot to say when it comes to their own futures, and research from Equitable Futures showed that they see themselves as their own best change agents. As the primary stakeholders and intended beneficiaries of services to support young people’s career pathways, it makes sense to incorporate their perspectives in the program design process. While many experts agree on the value of incorporating young people’s perspectives and want to create more youth-centered services, it’s not always clear how to operationalize the conditions in which youth perspectives are equally valued alongside adult practitioners.

Last month we shared two examples of how young people were listened to and how their perspectives were incorporated into stories and tools designed to help other young people. However, if you are in the earlier stages of youth-centered design, you may not have a mechanism in place for listening to young people and you also may be wondering: how do I begin? Two new resources on the Equitable Futures website — a searchable compendium of quotes from young people and new annotated videos — offer a unique opportunity to hear directly from young people and learn about the barriers they face in achieving their goals. As you explore these tools, we hope they will spark new ideas about how young people can become co-creators of their own learning experiences when given the right opportunities. 

  • Youth Quote Library – The Equitable Futures youth quote library provides unique access to youth perspectives and voices to better understand how they envision their future selves and their career pathways. Access a collection of more than 5,000 quotes covering a range of topics from young people across the country. Start your search here.
  • Video Playlist – In collaboration with Roadtrip Nation, Equitable Futures created a collection of videos that explore how young people are thinking about their future education and careers. The videos have been annotated with the Striving to Thriving core concepts to help connect the dots between these individual testimonials and insights gleaned from Equitable Futures research. Listen to young people here.

What We’re Reading