The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the barriers students face to postsecondary application, enrollment, and graduation. As a result, the path to college has become even more complicated, especially for underserved students.
K-12 leaders have the unique opportunity to recover student chances of enrollment and graduation, but many district leaders unknowingly limit eligible students in achieving their degrees. Avoid the common missteps below to ensure all students have access to postsecondary success.
1. Failing to examine whether grades accurately reflect content mastery
New test-optional admissions policies are unlikely to go away anytime soon, so colleges and universities are placing an even higher premium on student grades. Yet, high school course failure rates more than doubled this past year—creating a significant obstacle and equity concern for students aspiring to college.
However, course failures do not necessarily mean students didn’t learn. Approximately 40% of student grades include measurements that do not reflect student learning, such as participation, on-time homework submission, or virtual attendance. But students who lack internet access or live in hectic home environments may struggle to meet these expectations. Failing grades could signify an underlying equity problem that should not undermine students’ chances of success.
Particularly because of the pandemic, district leaders must examine traditional grading criteria to ensure students receive grades that accurately reflect academic progress and don’t mistakenly prevent underserved students from college admissions. To enact equitable grading, districts removed non-academic measurements, such as behavior, homework completion, and attendance from grades. Instead, districts shared these important non-academic observations orally or in writing when distributing grades. This summer, EAB will release an Equitable Grading Audit later this summer to help district teams adopt a similar approach.
2. Overemphasizing a student’s likelihood of acceptance in the college application process
Many college advisors heavily focus on the odds of getting accepted into a college when deciding where to apply. While conversations focused on acceptance are necessary, an overemphasis on this topic can accidentally mislead students to underestimate the importance of affordability or the type of academic support available on campus—two elements that have the greatest influence on postsecondary completion.
With more than 40% of enrolled college students failing to make it to graduation, advising conversations should refocus on the likelihood of graduation (i.e. affordability and on-campus academic support), not only the likelihood of acceptance. This expands students’ understanding of what it will take to not only apply and enroll in a school but also complete a degree and graduate. Help counselors adopt a more holistic and effective college advising approach by using EAB’s Success-Focused College Counseling toolkit.
3. Failing to provide ongoing financial aid advising beyond an annual FAFSA night
In 2020, $2 billion of federal aid was left unclaimed. According to EAB’s recent student survey, almost half of FAFSA-eligible students didn’t complete the FAFSA because they mistakenly believed they weren’t eligible. Beyond the complex, esoteric language of the form, these students cited lack of parental support and difficulty interpreting tax information as barriers in completing the FAFSA.
High school students will need more than ad-hoc financial aid nights to file a FAFSA. In fact, more than a third of students report never attending these events at all—and this is particularly true for underserved students.
A quick and highly impactful way to give just-in-time support is to supplement financial aid night with on-demand, simplified answers to students’ most pressing questions about the FAFSA. EAB’s FAFSA Submission Toolkit helps do exactly this. The toolkit was built from a deep understanding of students’ most common questions about the FAFSA, defining difficult financial aid jargon, clarifying misconceptions, and guiding students through each step of the complex form. Students can access this guidance at any time as it can be shared through PDF in a newsletter or embedded directly into district or teacher websites. The resources are customizable and available in both English and Spanish to help maximize the number of students who receive this critical information.
4. Neglecting to offer postsecondary advising beyond high school graduation
Once students graduate, they rarely receive support from high schools or colleges on the final steps to college enrollment. As a result of this “summer counseling dead zone,” one-third of admitted college students fail to make it to campus in the fall due to confusing matriculation requirements and unfamiliar deadlines.
K-12 districts have the opportunity to extend college advising into the summer following senior year to recover any students who otherwise might fall through the cracks. Districts can play an active role in guiding students through matriculation and enrollment by sending automated summer text reminders that are designed to increase the likelihood that students enroll in the fall. These low-lift, pre-planned text messages nudge students to complete necessary summer matriculation requirements when they need it most.
Postsecondary success is essential to districts’ top priorities, directly impacting initiatives like learning recovery, student mental health, and equity. Watch K-12’s hidden opportunities to boost postsecondary success to learn more about how your district can help students navigate the barriers brought on by the pandemic.
K-12's hidden opportunities to boost postsecondary success
Postsecondary success is essential to districts’ top priorities, directly impacting initiatives like learning recovery, student mental health, and equity. Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more about how your district can help students navigate the barriers brought on by the pandemic.