How to Leverage Your Community's Involvement in College and Career Readiness

How to Leverage Your Community's Involvement in College and Career Readiness

They say it takes a village. How can educators empower communities to become involved and engaged in college and career readiness for students?

One of the top priorities for K–12 educators is to empower students to build the necessary skills and interests that enable them to make meaningful college and career choices. Therefore, career and college readiness (CCR) must be a focus for schools if they are to fulfill their societal role.

The tall task of making students career and college ready has been a priority of school districts since Horace Mann (known-as the father of American Education) pushed for public schools in the 1830s. He and other early supporters of a public school system advocated, “…that a public investment in education would benefit the whole nation by transforming children into … productive citizens.”

The burden of CCR, however, can be better prepared if schools/districts have support from the community. The Xello 2022 State of College and Career Readiness Report, which surveyed K–12 U.S. educators found “A clear, overwhelming majority, ~78% of respondents think that creating a sense of community is “important” or “very important” in successful CCR efforts with a further 11% describing it as “extremely important” or “vital.”

Who can serve as partners and help school districts create a sense of community? Families, local employers, and post-secondary institutions to name just a few. Why are these groups relevant, and how can they be reached?

Family Matters

The typical K-12 student is 17 or 18 upon graduation. A person is a minor until the age of 18. Their parents and guardians have certain rights when it comes to their children. Beyond the letter of the law, many students look to their parents for guidance. Students may also be expecting financial support from their parents, which further ties them to their parents.

Ultimately, parents have a stake (beyond the emotional) in their child’s life and their readiness to enter a new life phase.

Our survey found that 61% of respondents involve families in their CCR effort. Yet, only 50% of families are somewhat engaged in the process, with 24% fully or very engaged, according to the survey. Consider these ways to improve familial engagement with the CCR process.

Communicate with parents directly. It’s a mistake to expect students to deliver information to their families. If the message gets delivered, it may be unclear or inaccurate. By communicating directly with parents, schools get the message across as they intend.

Consider how the message is delivered. Many people feel bombarded by email and prefer texts. Delivering the message through multiple mediums (or asking for the preferred medium) improves the chance the message will get through. Also, communicate only as needed since most people feel overburdened with obligations.

Finally, some schools reported increased attendance and participation in events shared via Zoom or similar mediums. Also, record events so people can download and watch/listen when its convenient for them. Ensuring people can access events and communications in their native language is also helpful.

In addition, make sure parents understand their input is welcome and give them tips on what they can do to help. This starts with meeting parents and personalizing communications. It helps parents recognize how they can help their children. Parents want to help their children but need guidance on how to do so.

Local employers

The greater community benefits when students are career and college ready. Students graduate with direction and purpose and are on their way to becoming productive citizens, as Mann and other early public advocates hoped. Therefore, local employers, who are part of the community, should play a role in the process.

Plus, students are interested in the knowledge they gain by working. A 2019 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked young people, “In general, how well do you think each of the following prepares someone for success in today’s economy?” ‘On the job’ experience scored the highest at 73%.

Our survey found that 49% of respondents engage local employers as part of their CCR effort. Of those who engage local employers, 55% reported it was a positive relationship. Those districts with established, high-grade CCR programs report three times higher local employer engagement.

What can school districts do to increase their engagement with local employers? Focus on the benefits employers gain by working with and having students work for them. These days, employers have the upper hand – particularly entry-level employers – due to a shortage. Student workers can become regular full-time workers in the future.

Students can also benefit businesses from the moment they begin working. Although they don’t have all the needed knowledge, they can be an asset if taught how to act appropriately and understand expectations. By matching students with jobs they are best suited for, schools can set up their learners for success.

When students succeed at local businesses, it encourages others to seek out their employment. Therefore, schools need to be involved with the process and do all they can to foster good experiences. Periodically surveying businesses to learn if they are content with the students is helpful. Ask what they can do to make the relationship better and more productive. Schools can ask their local business partners to recommend/suggest other partners. If the local business is pleased with their student workers, they are likely to be willing to encourage others to do the same.

Post-secondary institutions

Just like local businesses are part of the community and benefit when students are career and college-ready, so do local post-secondary institutions. Therefore, it’s no surprise that coming in at number three in our poll about elements that make up the CCR effort is post-secondary colleges, as 49% of respondents said they engage with them.

The predominant way (65-66%) schools districts support college-bound students is through direct connection with local colleges and college fairs. More direct and consistent engagement between high school students and local colleges could benefit both parties.

There are other valuable ways that K-12 schools can engage local post-secondary institutions and further students’ CCR. Again, similar to local businesses, college enrollment is down. It was decreasing before the pandemic but is down dramatically since. There were 4.7% fewer students in undergraduate programs in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021, according to U.S. News and World Report. They add that community colleges and four-year public institutions had the biggest declines.

So, local colleges, including community schools, need students. The empty seats can be filled by local students. School districts can encourage local colleges to engage with their students and help with CCR.

Offer value. By offering college courses to students while they are still in high school, the college gets a pipeline of potential students, including some who might have looked beyond what is right in front of them. By accumulating credits before they even finish high school, students graduate early. This saves them time and their parent’s money. High schools are getting their students’ college exposure and experience, so they can get on campus ready to thrive.

Bring college to high school. Popular classes, or even teachers, may be brought to the high school. By offering a curriculum similar to what’s offered on campus, high school students can make more informed decisions about their future, including what college to attend and what to major in. Plus, it can inspire students who may have already checked out as they get a greater sense of what they want for their future.

K-12 school districts need to get their students’ career and college ready. Parents and society at large expect students to come out of school and be able to contribute. By sharing this major responsibility with others, including families, local businesses, and post-secondary schools, K-12 schools can improve their CCR programs and ease students’ transitions to the next phase of their lives.