Accelerate ED Spotlight: Common Challenges, Shared Potential, and Student Voice in CA and KY

Monday, November 28, 2022
Kelly Van Beveren
Associate Director

“I think that the approach of focusing on students—particularly moving them into postsecondary opportunities and career opportunities —is the central piece of what we need to do…in terms of developing our economic opportunities, cultural opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities.”

— Mae Humiston, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky

The Accelerate ED initiative was specifically designed to scale promising pathways so that all students, especially students from low-income communities and communities of color, can access postsecondary opportunities. 

At the heart of this work is developing a clear understanding of the many barriers that keep students from accessing a postsecondary education. To best understand these challenges, each team began their design process by conducting student empathy interviews. These conversations centered on students’ experiences understanding and accessing postsecondary opportunities—what resources they had, what resources they needed, and what supports were needed to ensure that every student could smoothly transition to higher education and training. 

Each team conducted a range of student empathy interviews and used what they learned to orient their solutions-focused efforts. Although the 12 Accelerate ED design teams represent a tremendous variety of geographies, population sizes, and local cultures, hearing from students themselves highlighted important commonalities across many of the sites—including the shared challenges that many of their students face. 

The California and Kentucky teams offer a useful illustration of how design teams representing very different contexts are learning from one another in impactful ways. Through their processes of engaging with students, both teams identified very similar challenges and articulated shared themes to address through their work. More specifically, these teams are driven by the need for: 

  • Awareness of the “small” barriers that are actually tremendously significant. Leaders on both teams shared stories that they heard from students about barriers that may, on the surface, seem minor and easy to overcome—for example, challenges related to transportation—but that can in actuality completely derail a student’s chances of success. The teams recognize the need to comprehensively catalog and proactively address the range of challenges that students face in accessing and succeeding in postsecondary opportunities. 
  • Understanding of the importance and potential of higher education. Both the Kentucky and California design teams are focused on serving students from low-income backgrounds and students experiencing poverty. Both teams identified a need to support these students’ understanding of the significance of postsecondary education for their futures and the transformative potential it holds for their lives. For the design teams’ 13th year models to have meaningful impact, students and their families must first buy into the importance of education and training beyond high school. 
  • Wider and deeper knowledge of the options. In addition to helping students understand the transformative power of higher education in general, the teams in California and Kentucky both heard a need for a greater understanding of the range of postsecondary education and training opportunities that are available to students. Students need not only the opportunity to explore their career interests, but the knowledge and information to help them make informed choices about the postsecondary pathways they should pursue to reach their career goals. 
  • A sense of belonging. Leaders and educators have a responsibility to help students see themselves in postsecondary spaces to understand that they do belong and can succeed there. The equity-focused work that these teams are engaged in places central importance on showing students that opportunities for education and career success are built for them and within their reach. 

Check out the video above to hear from members of the California and Kentucky design teams about how what they’ve learned about the things students need to be successful is driving their work in Accelerate ED.