While there has been a longstanding disconnect between a high school education and postsecondary and career opportunities in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic recession has magnified the consequences.
The risks are even more acute for Black and Latinx youths and other underserved minorities, who are already at a disadvantage in terms of college-going rates and earnings. All available evidence suggests that these young people’s experiences over the next two years could have a decades-long impact on both their futures and the economy.
“Reimagining College and Career Transitions under COVID-19,” a new vision paper from Carnegie Corporation of New York, identifies strategies to bridge the gap between high school graduation and further learning and employment and to develop a more coherent, equitable, and substantial postsecondary system that prepares all young people for lifelong success.
Designing a system to support students’ post-high school transitions requires paying attention to each point in the process where potential losses could occur and drawing on data to design effective interventions and support. With the goal of driving larger-scale systems change over the next few years, the paper outlines long and short-term initiatives in the following six key areas where philanthropic partners can make the biggest societal return on investment.
1) Align High School and Postsecondary Pathways
Help every student complete a credit-bearing, action-oriented course to support college and career exploration, as well as make sure every student has access to ongoing, high-quality advising geared toward their personal transition plan.
2) Expand Student Outreach and College and Career Advising
Connect with every high school senior to verify and report their postgraduation plan — and identify students without a plan. Provide opportunities for online credit recovery and college coursework. Use information about students’ plans (or lack thereof) to identify and deploy interventions to keep students on a path to postsecondary education and training or a good first job.
3) Create Robust Bridge Programs
Invest in virtual internships, COVID-19 recovery projects, skill development (digital literacy, career readiness, and professional or soft skills), and opportunities for early college credit or college remediation courses.
4) Expand Service Corps for Youth and Link National Service to College and Career Pathways
Expand access to higher education and career credentials for corps members, and provide quality college and career advising to help corps members plan for their post-service lives.
5) Develop College and Career Pathways and Stackable Credentials in High-Opportunity Fields
Create transparency of performance for higher education and career credentialing. Create incentives and requirements for two- and four-year institutions to accept stackable credentials, and remove policy and financial barriers that keep high school students from earning those credentials and taking credit-bearing courses.
6) Support State and City Planning to Improve Post-High School Transitions
Develop a data system to track, report, and advance postsecondary education and employment outcomes for graduating high school seniors. Leverage postsecondary and K–12 funding to support smooth transitions in grades 12 and 13, such as fast-track early-college funding for high school students. Curate a set of high-quality credential programs for educators and students with strong labor market outcomes for in-demand jobs and careers, and provide incentives for better transition outcomes through pay-for-success policies.