For K12 leaders and administrators across the country, helping students identify their postsecondary goals has never been more important. In the past few years, high school students have started seriously questioning the value of a college degree, and leaders have come to understand that that’s normal—college isn’t for everyone.
Superintendents have been providing students with real-world job experiences before graduating through career technical education opportunities so they can have a head start on their careers without a college degree. But those students who do wish to pursue higher education—especially those who are traditionally underserved and marginalized—need guidance from leaders in their own schools.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn race-conscious admissions in June, the U.S. Department of Education has been sharing resources for K12 leaders on how they can ensure a diverse pipeline of college applicants within their own schools. Last week, the Department issued a report titled, “Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education,” which calls for strategic efforts among K12 and higher ed institutions to create outreach and pathway programs to bolster the number of applications among underserved student populations.
Department Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement that it’s ironic how the nation’s most inclusive and accessible institutions have, traditionally, lacked the resources to invest in student success, while more selective institutions with more resources “invest in students and propel them to graduation day.”
“This moment demands leadership, innovation and collaboration from leaders at every level to break down barriers for underserved students and reimagine pathways into higher education,” Cardona said. “Our future is brighter when we prepare students of all backgrounds to lead our multiracial democracy together.”
One of the ways K12 schools can help support underserved students is by hiring high-quality counselors. According to the report, low-income students and students of color traditionally attend schools that don’t have enough counseling staff available to help them navigate the college admissions process. Furthermore, it declares that the end of race-conscious admissions will make this even more difficult for students at these schools.
“Such declines would exacerbate existing inequities in college enrollment among low-income students and students of color,” the report reads.
School counselors are vital for their role in encouraging students to take interest in postsecondary education by recommending college-level classes in high school, assisting them in the financial aid application process and building a college-going culture. And there’s research to prove it.
Using data from the Department of Education, one study revealed that one high school counselor leads to a 10% increase in four-year college enrollment. When it comes to college advising programs, another study found that students who received advising and counseling were 7% more likely to enroll.
Moving forward, it’s important that K12 schools recognize partnerships with their local colleges and universities, the report declares, as it can help ensure high school students receive some sort of mentoring, perhaps through college fairs and frequent updates directly from colleges about future changes to their admissions process.
“These partnerships can play a critical role in making sure K12 counselors have the resources needed to make holistic admissions more effective,” the report reads.