States’ Pivotal Role in Expanding Postsecondary Advising

Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Briana Falduti
Senior Associate

The pandemic has caused dramatic shifts in K-12 education, higher education, and the labor market and diverted many students’ postsecondary plans. Students are entering their third year of pandemic-impacted schooling, and they need advising on how to navigate these changing systems now more than ever. However, through our research and conversations with experts, we have found that advising is highly variable, disconnected, and inequitable. In particular, students of color, low-income students, first-generation students, and rural students continue to face systemic barriers to quality advising. It is critical for K-12 and higher education to align advising efforts to better support students as they navigate postsecondary options and systems, and states play a pivotal role in uniting advising efforts. Access to high quality advising needs to be an expectation for every student, not merely a privilege for some.

With an influx of dollars pouring into states from federal stimulus relief bills, state policymakers have an opportunity to expand access and align advising efforts across K-12 and higher education. ESG has worked with 20+ collaborators to offer suggestions and resources on how states can best leverage their stimulus funds to support students’ postsecondary and career pathways on our Invest Forward website. Building on those ideas, here are a few ways that states can scale advising support for students.

Create a statewide near-peer advising corps. Near-peer advisors are current college students or recent college graduates who support students and families as they navigate the complex steps towards postsecondary enrollment. Near-peer advisors are particularly well positioned to serve students because they have recently navigated the postsecondary transition themselves and can more easily form relationships with students. These advisors expand counselors’ capacity to provide individualized advising support to every student while helping build students’ social networks.

A number of states have already created their own near-peer advising programs. For example, the Michigan College Access Network created AdviseMI which places recent college graduates in high schools across the state to help students with their college-going journey. The program encourages collaboration among K-12, higher education, and the state: the state oversees the program, colleges help recruit recent graduates to serve as advisors, and both school districts and college partners help subsidize the advisors’ stipends. The state also partners with AmeriCorps to further offset the cost of advisors.

States can also partner with existing college access organizations to more quickly develop and scale a near-peer advising program. Texas partners with College Advising Corps (CAC), relying on their expertise and proven track record (students served by a CAC advisor are 30% more likely to apply to college and 76% more likely to persist to year two of college) to serve students in schools with historically low graduation rates.

A few states have already indicated that they plan to invest their stimulus dollars in near-peer advising programs. Arizona is investing $600,000 of the state’s ESSER III funds to increase the number of AdviseAZ advisors and Connecticut is partnering with the University of Connecticut College Advising Corp to expand advising services to over 2,000 students. 

Provide districts with grants to hire more college and career advisors, particularly in districts with low college-going rates and high numbers of students of color or low-income students. ESG has been supporting Kentucky’s Commonwealth Education Continuum, a collaborative effort of the K-12, higher education, and workforce leadership, to develop recommendations for improving postsecondary transitions, and as part of this work, we conducted a series of focus groups and interviews with over 160 stakeholders. The most common theme we heard was that high school counselors have limited capacity and there is a need for more college and career advisors. Kentucky is not alone in this challenge, and states have a responsibility to ensure sufficient capacity to meet students’ college and career advising needs.

Providing a grant to increase the number of counselors or college and career advisors will ensure schools have enough capacity to address all students’ academic, mental health, and postsecondary transition needs. Although counselors are more expensive than AmeriCorps advisors, a benefit of this approach is that counselors may remain in their role for more than two years (as most near-peer AmeriCorps advisors serve for a maximum of two years), providing more consistency to students.

Colorado’s School Counselors Corps Grant Program was designed to increase graduation rates and the percentage of students who successfully apply for and enroll in postsecondary education. The program prioritizes schools serving highly diverse and economically disadvantaged students and has reduced the student to counselor ratios in participating schools to under 250:1. For schools funded by the program, graduation, concurrent enrollment, FAFSA completion, and matriculation rates have all increased.

Similar to Colorado’s program, Oklahoma is using $35 million of federal pandemic relief funds to create the School Counselor Corps grant program which will provide half the salary and benefits for districts to hire more than 300 new school counselors and mental health professionals for three years. 

Promote common, actionable tools to support all stakeholders’ role in advising. Most states have a variety of individuals and organizations who support students’ postsecondary transition needs – counselors, teachers, college access programs, higher education staff, and community organizations. However, the level of training and the messages these parties deliver are often just as varied. States can create a unified set of training and messages for all who support postsecondary preparation and transitions. 

In Texas, Texas OnCourse is the go-to source for college and career planning. The site was developed by educators, employers, and state agencies as part of a state-funded initiative to improve college and career readiness. It serves as the state’s one-stop shop for educators, district leaders, students, and families to receive postsecondary planning information. It also provides training resources for counselors, and at one point, offered counselors a bonus for completing the training program. 

By bringing together education and workforce leaders, states can help students and families understand the full extent of pathways options beyond high school. ESG has created a communications toolkit on Postsecondary Pathways and the Shifting American Economy to help education leaders effectively communicate with families about today’s economy and the different paths to success. These ready-to-use resources are customizable to fit a state or community’s specific context and can offer a starting point for states looking to create a postsecondary planning resource hub.