Aligning Advising Across K-12 and Postsecondary Systems is Better for Students, Institutions, and Communities

Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Hannah Smith

Co-Authored by Janice Le, Danesha Ward, and Erin Workman

Over the past several decades, we have seen growing energy and emphasis put on building accountability into our education systems; yet, one metric is often deemphasized, or overlooked altogether: how prepared are soon-to-be-graduates for their next step?

In a recent poll, 75% of recent high school graduates reported feeling moderately, slightly, or not at all prepared for their future. Only 1 in 5 high school students is enrolled in a school where there is a sufficient number of school counselors. And nearly half of college students report that they are not confident, or only somewhat confident, that they know how to get a job after college. If we want to bridge these gaps, we must increase institutions’ capacity to deliver advising and support to students and families as they navigate the path to and through college and career.

High-quality advising is essential for opening the doors to postsecondary and career success. We know that students who receive high-quality advising gain a multitude of benefits, including higher GPA, increased participation in early postsecondary opportunities, increased credential attainment, increased retention and persistence, better ability to develop a college-going and occupational identity, higher feelings of self-efficacy and motivation, and greater understanding and ability to leverage social capital. Quality advising is a critical ingredient in building more equitable educational and career outcomes for students and, ultimately, stronger communities and economies. 

In today’s rapidly changing world, the need for a cohesive, integrated approach to education and workforce readiness is more important than ever. Aligned Advising emerges as a key strategy in this context, aiming to bridge the gap between K–12, higher education, and the workforce. This holistic approach is critical to ensuring that students are not only prepared for the future, but are also provided with equitable access to opportunities. As part of our efforts to ensure that high-quality, aligned advising is an expectation for every student, Education Strategy Group’s interviews with leaders in the field have led to a set of core policy recommendations (illustrated through a series of new case studies), each designed to address specific challenges within education and workforce systems:

  1. Convene Cross-Sector Stakeholders to Ensure Cohesion
  2. Develop Robust Longitudinal Data Systems
  3. Provide Clear and Comprehensive Advising Standards
  4. Improve the Capacity of All Stakeholders to Respond to the Advising Standards

Convene Cross-Sector Stakeholders to Ensure Cohesion

The inefficiencies created by the absence of strong cross-sector advising partnerships can be dire for students and systems alike. Students often face unequal access to resources, support services, and opportunities, and higher education and workforce systems experience disengagement, which can lead to lower persistence and completion rates, and, ultimately, a workforce that is unable to meet industry demands. But when local, regional, and state partners work together to mitigate these challenges through collaborative efforts, they can ensure academic advising support is consistent across the student’s educational journey to and through credential completion. 

Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) in Montgomery County, Maryland focuses on identifying and supporting students who come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education and those who are the first in their family to attend college through academic coaching support as they plan for their transition from MCPS to Montgomery College and, eventually, to the Universities at Shady Grove. 

Through this partnership, each institution employs dedicated staff to oversee the ACES program. Programmatic outcome data show how successful this partnership is, as students in the ACES Program have a 99 percent high school graduation rate and an 85 percent postsecondary retention rate from the first year to the second year, as opposed to the 65 percent persistence rate for non-ACES students.

Develop Robust Longitudinal Data Systems

A recent article from NCAN highlighted the troubling fact that “more than 60 percent of school leaders say they ‘do not use’ data on postsecondary advising, postsecondary application, and postsecondary enrollment.” To overcome this hurdle, states and regions need to develop robust, cross-sector systems for collecting and communicating postsecondary and workforce student planning data. These data, when used intentionally and effectively, can connect the relational and procedural elements that students need to be successful in college and career.

The Arkansas Department of Education has expanded their advising efforts to more intentionally incorporate career exploration and planning into advising support for students in intentional, scalable ways. As part of this effort, they have developed a statewide data system and associated metrics that guide the work of practitioners on the ground and provide critical infrastructure to effectively monitor student progress. 

Each of the 88 participating districts utilize a data dashboard that gives an overview of student progress, including but not limited to touchpoints with their career coach, test scores, need for remedial courses, work-based learning experiences, and credentials earned. This data system allows career coaches to run reports and add narratives, making it a useful tool for real time advising, while also providing critical statewide aggregate data that decision makers use to inform policy shifts and improve programmatic outcomes.

Provide Clear and Comprehensive Advising Standards

Oftentimes, the most important step in this work is foundational; this includes prioritizing state-specific frameworks, clear graduation requirements, advising capacity, and equity-focused programs. These efforts have enhanced college and career readiness and success through innovative state-level strategies, leading to more consistent and impactful student experiences. Ultimately, these strategies not only facilitate better access to postsecondary and career opportunities but also ensure that students are well-prepared for success in their postsecondary endeavors.

Texas’ Effective Advising Framework (EAF) is a comprehensive guide for building successful advising programs, focusing on five key levers: Strong program leadership and planning for strategic direction; Cultivating effective and supported school counselors and advisors; Fostering an internal school culture for advising; Forming effective external partnerships; and Adopting high-quality advising materials and assessments. This framework details essential commitments and actions at district and campus levels that are critical to strong advising programs.

Improve the Capacity of All Stakeholders to Respond to the Advising Standards

More often than not, postsecondary advising is the responsibility of counselors who are either under-prepared for and/or do not have the time to help every student navigate the maze to and through postsecondary education and training. One promising practice is when districts and community-based organizations form strategic partnerships to identify college and career readiness needs, and co-design plans to address these needs and provide intentional systems of support to all students.

Jackson College in Michigan was an early adopter of guided pathways, a national movement to provide structured support and clear learning outcomes for students. Through an intentional redesign of its academic and workforce departments, the college redesigned how its degrees and certificates mapped to all programs of study.

Recognizing that this pivot would likely require additional academic advising to support students as they navigated their programs of study, the college created the role of student success navigators. Prior to the redesign of the role, the college had four advisors to serve all students, making the advisor-to-student ratio almost 1,400 to 1. After hiring new advising staff and partnering with other departments on campus to also provide mentoring support to students, the college brought the advisor-to-student ratio down to 275 t0 1, allowing for more meaningful interactions between students and advisors to occur.

By aligning advising across the K-12, higher ed, workforce continuum, we can unlock opportunity for students, families, and communities. Our hope is that the learnings and recommendations here will inspire and inform other states and systems that are looking to align and improve student transitions. As stakeholders and policymakers look for ways to improve college and career advising, we believe that Aligned Advising is the key. 

Learn more about ESG’s Aligned Advising work and explore case studies illustrating these principles in practice.