Accelerate ED: Creating Postsecondary Opportunities with Students at the Center

Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Lauren Norton
Associate Director

What if every high school student had the chance to take an additional year of courses related to their interests? What if they could earn enough credits to complete their associate degree one year after high school while gaining valuable experience and career preparation—all at little to no cost?

A 2021 survey of over 1,600 college students confirmed that costs, including the cost of living and the cost of tuition and course materials, are the biggest barriers to postsecondary education for students. This is true not only of four-year-degrees, but also associate and professional degrees and certifications. 

While the financial barriers are real and must be addressed if we hope to provide all students with equal opportunities to economic stability, there is another very real barrier that deserves our focus across sectors: information, awareness, and understanding. 

Many young people today are unaware of the options available to them after high school as well as the paths they can take to access those opportunities. Some students may not have had a family member or friend previously traverse a postsecondary path, so they lack valuable firsthand insights, experience, and information. Others may not fully understand the variety of postsecondary credentials and how they connect to job opportunities. Still others are unsure about available financial aid or other supports that can help them navigate the often-complex process of enrolling in higher education.  

Whatever the case, students are missing out on key postsecondary opportunities that can elevate their economic stability, helping them break cycles of poverty by accessing jobs and wages that are unattainable without higher education or training. Getting those career insights early–What job do I really want? What certifications are needed to work in this field? What do I need to get those certifications?– is important so that students have options.

An approach that blurs the line between the end of high school and start of college, so that students are on a fast-track to an industry-desired postsecondary credential, provides students with those early insights, offering them postsecondary access and experience. 

At ESG, we are partnering directly with twelve design teams from across the country to address these key barriers and create and scale 13th year models for students as part of the Accelerate ED initiative. These design teams include district and state leaders, business leaders, higher education leaders, students, and community members who are coming together to not only pinpoint the barriers that their students are grappling with when it comes to postsecondary attainment, but to create real, proven solutions. 

As California team member Naomi Castro, Senior Director of Career Ladders Project put it: “We often have students tell us that they have to work to help their families out, especially when we see first-generation students or students who don’t have that family support network of college going. They don’t have a parent or an older relative who can guide them through that college process. So they’re the first ones to do it. So it’s a completely different world for them. So they need those navigational kinds of supports.”

Check out the video above to hear how the Accelerate ED design teams are putting students and their experiences at the heart of their work.