Wayfinders: Renewing Our Focus on Supporting Young People’s Pathways

We are over two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and even though the pandemic isn’t over, young people’s aspirations for their careers and their lives can’t be deferred any longer. Alarming statistics about decreases in college enrollment and other recent measures of student success have shone a much-needed spotlight on the need to support more young people in pursuing their educational and career pathways–especially Black and Latino young people, and young people from low-income households. The good news is there is increased focus and attention in many communities on the need to support students to stay on track and continue their education. 

For everyone working to support young people in their pathways from high school to attaining postsecondary credentials and meaningful early work experiences – whether policymakers, funders, education leaders, advocates, and program designers – the time has come to create stronger linkages between high school and higher education and career-connected learning experiences to support young peoples’ progress towards credentials and jobs that will best position them for life success. There are an abundance of proven models and tools available to do this challenging system alignment work that can guide decisionmakers to invest in systematic connections between high school, higher education, and work – in sectors where our labor market is demanding more and better-trained talent. For example, we are excited about opportunities to link national service funding via Americorps and advising, mentoring and coaching programs with career pathways in teaching to address the high demand for instructional support staff and teachers that will last long past the end of the pandemic. 

As a reminder, you can check out more recommendations for how to best utilize economic recovery resources for student success in education to employment pathways in the Pathways Playbook, a resource from the collaborative that has brought together many partners in the pathways space: Invest Forward. If we are able to connect more young people with the support and resources they both deserve and need, we can collectively work to make sure that this generation of young people are able to achieve their educational, career, and life dreams.  

Listening to Young People: It Always Matters

Equitable Futures, a project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, centered on the premise that young people’s voices mattered–especially with respect to understanding how best to support their pathways through high school and postsecondary education and beyond. The foundational research for Equitable Futures, called Striving to Thriving, found that Black and Latino young people, and young people from low-income backgrounds, had many different types of goals relating to their education and careers, but almost all envisioned their futures in terms of the lives they ultimately wanted to have. Against the backdrop of the pandemic’s first year, an EdSurge reporter sought to understand how young people were doing with respect to their educational and career goals, and how they saw themselves and their future lives. The result: a new article profiling nine high school students and how they are making decisions about their futures beyond high school against the backdrop of the pandemic.

You can read or listen to the full article here. You can also read a companion piece for college educators and job-training professionals on the main take-aways from the article here. Finally, to hear directly from young people talking about their hopes and dreams, you can watch the annotated videos produced for Equitable Futures by Roadtrip Nation.

The Common App: Reflections On the Past and the Present

Some generations of Americans still remember a time when the college application process was unique to each institution, and applications had to be painstakingly typed or written by hand. Nowadays, many students can use the Common App to apply to over 900 colleges and universities. Common App’s universal application process removes barriers for young people who most often experience limited access to the resources available to help navigate the oftentimes complicated structures of applying to and paying for college. In the decades since it was introduced, Common App has been working in partnership with other organizations and educational institutions in pursuit of access, equity, and integrity in the college admissions process. For example, Common App is leading innovative work in the high school to postsecondary transition space such as partnering with College Advising Corps to ensure students get multiple touchpoints of support as they go through the college application process.

In a blog post shared towards the end of 2021, Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of Common App, shared reflections on how Common App has evolved and how the organization is thinking about addressing increasingly critical issues of equity and college affordability. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Common App was able to create a data warehouse from its now widely-used application system to help identify and analyze trends in college enrollment. One of the insights that emerged, for example, was the significant drop in college enrollment among first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds in December 2020, which was followed by an increase in those same groups during the following year. 

You can read the full array of insights and reflections in the blog post from Jenny Rickard and Common App here

Support For Young People Through Post-College Employment

What types of skill development support do young people need to make the most of their college experiences and help them get a high-quality job after graduating? Research overwhelmingly shows that skills categorized as “hard” (technical or specific skills) and “soft” (emotional intelligence, interpersonal) in the employment world both matter. Each year, Braven–an organization with a mission to empower students of color, first-generation students, and students from low-income backgrounds–works with hundreds of young people to develop the skills, confidence, experiences, and networks necessary to attain good first jobs out of college. Known as Braven Fellows, these students are given coaches and mentors plus semester-long courses in career education to support their development. Each Braven fellow is also provided with training and support to increase their social capital and to build their social networks and career fluency so they can secure a strong first job post-graduation. 

In Braven’s 2022 Jobs Report, the numbers show that despite the economic turmoil of the pandemic, Braven Fellows continue to outpace demographically similar groups when it comes to successful job attainment in the six months following graduation, with the majority (55%) out-earning their parents in their very first job out of college. While the impact of COVID-19 was not small–internship attainment and college enrollment declined significantly for the class of 2021 compared to classes in pre-pandemic times–Braven Fellows continued to demonstrate progress in securing or maintaining secure and stable employment, despite the uncertainties of the economic recovery. Braven is a great model for how colleges can invest in building social capital in ways that drive measurable value.  

Speaking of Social Networks…

….Here’s your reminder to register for the upcoming webinar where nonprofit leaders share their insights from field-testing the message guide for how to talk about social capital. Working with strategists from Wonder: Strategies for Good, two organizations, Climb Hire and Advance CTE, tested ways to talk about the importance of networks and support systems for young people with policy-makers, nonprofit leaders, and others. Be sure to register to join the conversation on Tuesday, April 5 at 1pm PT/4pm ET. 

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