Building Awareness of Pathways to Success: One Year In

Thursday, March 16, 2023
Lauren Norton
Associate Director

As the variety of postsecondary pathways available to students has grown, the need to provide students and their families with clear, comprehensive information on those options and how to navigate them has grown more urgent. There is a real opportunity for innovation in ways to help students envision their future and navigate their path to career success. 

Just over a year ago, ESG launched an initiative in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation to support and learn from seven leading organizations with piloting strategies to better communicate with students and families about the multiple college and career pathways available to them after high school. Working at a national, state, and local scale, these organizations began by participating in a cohort learning series to build their understanding of topics such as: shifts in the labor market, defining pathways and credentials of value, digital communications strategies for engaging today’s learners, tracking credential persistence and attainment, work-based learning, and social capital. Each session was hosted by an expert in the field – with speakers such as EMSI (now Lightcast), the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, and the Christensen Institute – and highlighted innovative efforts already underway among cohort members. This shared learning, coupled with ongoing support from ESG staff, supported each organization in developing comprehensive implementation and evaluation plans for their pilots.

With organizations now mid-way through implementing their pilots, which are running across the current academic year, we wanted to share an update on three of the key approaches being tested.

Direct-to-Student Communications

Multiple organizations are piloting – or scaling existing – technology-embedded campaigns. For example, the College Advising Corps is partnering with Mainstay to deliver new, AI-driven chatbot content around college and career pathways in their North Carolina and Atlanta markets. The content has been specifically tailored to follow principles of behavioral science and to resonate with its Gen Z audience. Students are also able to connect directly with an in-school advisor through the chatbot. Additionally, Get Schooled is delivering micro-lessons around career skills directly to students through both text and Kahoot; topics include networking, asking for references, updating resumes, and more. These micro-lessons are complemented by a rich repository of free, online resources accessible through Get Schooled’s website and social media platforms. Get Schooled leverages its youth fellows to ensure content resonates with students.

Curricula and Programming

Other organizations have focused their efforts on revising their curricula and programming to integrate content on multiple postsecondary pathways. In Mississippi, Get2College has partnered with the Mississippi Department of Education to add modules on career exploration to its newly-launched, state-mandated college and career readiness course for high school students. In collaboration with Accelerate MS, the state workforce office, they also created an interactive Tableau dashboard to showcase in-demand, high-growth career opportunities across the state, which will be incorporated into training for course instructors. OneGoal is expanding its curricula to include a “career track” to build the capacity of its school-based Program Directors to support students who have expressed interest in continuing into the workforce, apprenticeship, or other career-focused pathway following high school. They are also partnering with Merit America and Year Up to pilot credential opportunities for OneGoal alumni who are either unrolled or have stopped out of their postsecondary path. The Austin Chamber of Commerce targeted graduating high school seniors who did not have a postsecondary plan for its summer bridge program. Participating students had access to an online advising platform powered by Nepris and AI-driven text messaging campaigns through OneLogos. The Chamber is also planning to host a four-event series in partnership with Austin Community College to connect students with local, in-demand industry sectors to build awareness of career opportunities. In North Carolina, shift_ed (formerly Say Yes Guilford) provided access to YouScience career assessments to every incoming ninth-grader to be able to connect students to local employers, who provide mentorship and work-based learning opportunities, in their identified fields of interest. This included hosting a career expo with over 40 local industry partners. 

Capacity Building of Advisors

Recognizing the important role of advisors, which we define broadly to include any of the individuals who support students in navigating their educational, career, and personal journeys, including counselors, educators, parents, coaches, faith leaders, and peers,, several organizations are piloting ways to build the capacity of these individuals around pathways beyond a four-year degree. PeerForward has expanded its peer-to-peer model to include training on career planning and credentials of value in its Lansing, MI and Prince George’s County, MD markets. They are also piloting a CTE pathway program to prepare interested students for careers in college advising. College Advising Corps, which places recent college graduates as advisors in high schools across the country, is providing both in-person and online, asynchronous training to all of its near-peer advisors on college and career pathways, with lessons on labor market data, credentials of value, apprenticeships, community and technical colleges, and stackability. Advisors are incentivized to complete training by being able to use it towards their required annual professional development hours, as well as through a gift card raggle.

With pilots set to conclude this summer, we look forward to sharing key lessons learned on the advising strategies being piloted across the cohort later this year.