Accelerate Recovery: Establish a State-Level Postsecondary Advising Network

Thursday, August 13, 2020
Ryan Reyna
Senior Director

ESG is pleased to have been a part of Equitable Transitions Through Pandemic Disruptions, a new series of policy briefs published this week by Education Commission of the States. Make sure to check out all six briefs in the series, including our paper on how states can capitalize on the opportunity to increase attainment, close equity gaps, and rejuvenate economies by creating a near-peer postsecondary advising network. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that students face in navigating the maze from high school to college. Amid growing concerns around affordability, health, and fulfilling family obligations, among others, many students have reconsidered their postsecondary plans entirely. According to a national survey, 42 percent of Black students and 50 percent of Hispanic students have either changed or canceled their postsecondary education plans. These rates are nearly double that of white students, threatening to widen existing inequities.

Given that nearly every job created in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008 required some postsecondary education or training, it will be critically important to keep high school students on track to pursue higher education to equip them for success in a challenging job market.

States have the opportunity to help meet their postsecondary attainment goal, address racial and socioeconomic disparities in credential attainment, and rejuvenate their economies through the creation of a near-peer postsecondary advising network. This network could put recent college graduates to work to help thousands of students enroll and succeed in higher education. Creating a state-level postsecondary advising network is an innovative way to accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While our new brief offers greater detail about how governors can build postsecondary advising networks, below is a high-level overview of several key elements. 

Deploy targeted student outreach. 

Surveys indicate that students of color and those from low-income families are most likely to disengage from education or delay their postsecondary plans as a result of the pandemic. It will be critical to send a signal to recent high school graduates and rising seniors that they are not only welcome in higher education, they are also wanted and there are state resources to help them navigate the transition. The initial outreach efforts of a state advising network can be targeted to the communities most affected by the pandemic. That includes Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students and/or those from low-income families. 

Engage recent college graduates as near-peer advisors. 

Individuals who are not far removed from high school are likely to have a better chance of connecting with current students or recent high school graduates. They can rely on their own recent experiences navigating the college application and financial aid processes, as well as how to continue on a path toward credential attainment. And given that they are digital natives, they are likely to be comfortable engaging virtually with students as states move through the various stages of reopening from the pandemic. A cohort of near-peers that reflect the diversity of the students they are serving will not only provide meaningful employment to graduates from those populations, it will also help the targeted students benefit from mentorship from an individual who can relate to their cultural experience.

Develop robust virtual engagement tools. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted traditional opportunities for advising and guidance and forced college-access organizations and postsecondary institutions to redirect their supports to a virtual environment. While technology cannot replace the individual connection between an advisor and a student, it can help maintain that connection in a socially distanced environment. A well-constructed technology platform can reduce capacity needs and limit confusion. There are many platforms that can send automated text messages; monitor student progress on key postsecondary application, matriculation and persistence steps; provide college and career exploration and planning tools; and enable advisors to coordinate with institutions to triage issues before they lead to student disengagement. States should consider providing financial support and training for the adoption of a common tool to facilitate virtual engagement.

For more strategies states can adopt to build a postsecondary advising network, check out the full brief – along with all other briefs in ECS’ Equitable Transitions Through Pandemic Disruptions series.