K-12 Postsecondary Success Resource Center

Resource Center

K-12 Postsecondary Success Resource Center

9 overlooked K-12 practices that propel students to succeed in today's increasingly challenging postsecondary landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated nearly all barriers high school students face to postsecondary success. Today, students must navigate a rapidly changing college landscape— from a more complex admissions process to rising tuition costs. While higher education certainly has a role in minimizing hurdles to college access, EAB research has found K-12 district leaders and counselors have the unique opportunity to mitigate nearly 80% of the top postsecondary success barriers facing students today.

EAB designed this resource center to equip district teams with pertinent updates on the changing college landscape and its implication for students and schools. On this page, you will learn strategies that prepare students to overcome the postsecondary challenges ahead. You will also find ready-made resources from EAB’s extensive higher education research portfolio that applies to K-12.

To begin using this center, review the list of baseline and advanced best practices below and download the corresponding implementation resources to learn how to bring these strategies to your school. For additional questions or implementation support, please contact your dedicated advisor.

District Leader Best Practices

Baseline Practices Every District Leader Should Use

1. Redesign grading policies to solely focus on academic mastery

New test-optional admissions policies are unlikely to disappear 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, which hinders student chances of attending college.

Equitable grading is a highly effective – yet underutilized – strategy that is proven to improve student grades and minimize grading biases. In this practice, districts remove non-academic performance from final grades so that GPAs only reflect learning mastery. Nearly 40% of traditional grades consist of non-academic measures such as participation, on-time homework submission, or virtual attendance. By shifting towards equitable grading policies, district leaders can increase students’ eligibility for college and minimize the chances of inadvertently penalizing students for out-of-school factors that interfere with their learning (i.e. mental health).

To help districts adopt equitable grading practices, EAB designed an audit to help benchmark your district’s grading methods against best practices for grading used by exemplar equity-focused districts.

2. Correct college misinformation using district social media messaging

Research indicates that social media is one of the most effective ways to support students in making informed decisions about college. More than 90% of students check social media daily, and nearly half use social media platforms to search for details about postsecondary options. Many times, though, the college information students find on their own is either unverified or inaccurate.

To increase access to more accurate information about college, district leaders and counselors can leverage social media platforms to disseminate the most critical college messages students are least likely to see on their feeds. EAB developed a series of downloadable social media images and GIFs that distill the most important – yet least common – guidance around college decision-making in a changing COVID world. These ready-made materials are available in multiple designs and colors to match your district’s or school’s branding, and counselors can post them directly on social media platforms to offer essential admissions guidance at scale.

By sharing these messages over social media, counselors can tee up the most critical conversations students need to have before applying and enrolling in college without scheduling additional meetings or advising events.

The content is organized into three major themes:

  1. Don’t pass up on easy money for college.
  2. Know how to stand out to admissions counselors this year.
  3. Don’t just start college; finish it!
the most expensive degree is the one you don't finish infographic

Download this social media image and more using the links below.

Share updated college social media messages in your district or school colors

3. Match students with best-fit colleges at scale using online student-led college comparison tools

Despite the increasingly complicated college landscape, too many students struggle to receive the guidance they need to make informed college choices. Counselors’ and parents’ time and capacity are at all-time lows, and community-based college access programs are rare and highly localized. As a result, 56% of high-school-aged students end up relying on the internet for making challenging college decisions. This provides students disjointed information about college that is difficult to piece together.

District leaders have the opportunity to provide more students with the just-in-time support they need by offering student-led college selection opportunities in their counseling services. Cappex and College Greenlight are two free online tools that provide reliable college guidance to students in a one-stop platform as they navigate the college decision process. These on-demand access to reliable college guidance resources are designed to reduce counselors’ discussing the application process with students and increase the chances that students make informed postsecondary choices.

The chart below provides a high-level overview of the two platforms that are free for K-12 schools and how students and counselors can use them moving forward.

Logo Horizontal - Primary

This website helps students:

  • build a profile and connect with colleges in one central location
  • search for local and national scholarships
  • compare application requirements & tuitions costs to make informed decisions
EAB Greenlight Logo Color RGB-550x550px

This service helps connect students with:

  • a network of college counseling experts
  • personalized resources to help make informed college decisions
  • virtual college advising events for students

4. Expand access to advanced coursework to build students’ college confidence and likelihood of enrollment

Research indicates that students who participate in high school AP courses are significantly more likely to enroll in college. However, two-thirds to nearly three-quarters of black and Hispanic students who are eligible for AP science or math courses are still not enrolled in any advanced class. This is because many districts haven’t updated their AP enrollment requirements that often restricts otherwise eligible students. As a result, underrepresented students may not to follow a college prep course sequence or develop the academic confident they need to succeed in college-level courses.

To maximize students’ college-going confidence, it is critical that district leaders actively reduce AP course enrollment barriers so that all academically eligible students can enroll. Districts can identify overlooked eligible students and broaden access to advance coursework in three ways:

  1. Removing institutional barriers to AP courses like strict prerequisite grades and teacher recommendations
  2. Leveraging student data to assess likelihood of AP success and identify hidden academic potential
  3. Developing an academic course pipeline toward advanced courses early in students’ middle and high school careers

Advanced Strategies for Forward-Thinking Districts

5. Integrate interim metrics that predict postsecondary success into your college data tracking

Many districts make the mistake of focusing on only one lofty college access goal: increasing the percentage of students enrolling in a postsecondary program. While this metric is important to track, only focusing on this final measurement of success mistakenly directs the onus for maximizing college enrollment solely on district leaders. In turn, enrollment numbers rarely improve.

In addition to measuring final enrollment numbers, districts should include a few interim metrics that predict the likelihood of a student enrolling in college. These metrics include goals that teachers, counselors, or other stakeholders share the responsibility to track – such as maximizing the percentage of students who pass their classes, enroll in Algebra II by eleventh grade, or take at least one AP exam with a score of three or higher. Including these interim metrics expands accountability for increasing enrollment numbers to more than just the district leader. Furthermore, it removes the potential to shift responsibility to factors outside the district’s control.

Glenbard High School District #87 provides an exemplar way of outlining and tracking high-impact college access goals in its college accountability dashboard. This dashboard helps district leaders identify barriers to college, measure progress to improved postsecondary success, delegate responsibility, and demonstrate that college access is a district-wide priority rather than just a lofty ambition. Use the example below to establish interim metrics for your district.

6. Adapt your own non-academic college prep curriculum to build students’ college-going identity

Students’ expectations for themselves dramatically influence their likelihood to apply to and attend college. Unfortunately, low-income students and students of color are 20% less likely to view themselves as college eligible than their peers, regardless of their academic performance.

Districts can help more first generation college students see themselves as college material by adapting an existing non-academic college prep curriculum by YES Prep Public Schools, which has consistently improved students’ college-going identity and college success rates. As part of the curriculum, whole-class sessions aim to develop the skills proven to boost students’ college success rates, such as self-confidence, recognizing personal strengths, responding to biases, and setting goals. This college identity curriculum starts in 9th grade for all students and scaffolds all the way to high school graduation.

To adapt these lessons in your own district, pull objectives from YES Prep’s example curriculum and integrate them into existing advisory classes or college prep courses. Instruct teachers or counselors to use the suggested assessment questions as they provide informal feedback to students throughout course sessions.

Counselor Best Practices

Baseline Practices Every Counselor Should Use

1. Supplement financial aid events with ongoing, student-navigated FAFSA guidance

FAFSA submissions for first-time college students have declined by 21% since before the pandemic, resulting in more than $2 billion in federal aid left unclaimed. Although many districts offered FAFSA assistance to students through Financial Aid information events, only 30% of FAFSA eligible students (or less) participated in these school offerings.

Counselors can provide FAFSA guidance at scale and encourage more students to file their FAFSA by sharing EAB’s student-facing FAFSA toolkit with students. This toolkit allows students to access FAFSA guidance at any time on their own. It defines complex financial aid jargon, clarifies common misconceptions, and provides students detailed guidance on filling out the FAFSA form in both English and Spanish.

2. Correct college misinformation using district social media messaging

Research indicates that social media is one of the most effective ways to support students in making informed decisions about college. More than 90% of students check social media daily, and nearly half use social media platforms to search for details about postsecondary options. Many times, though, the college information students find on their own is either unverified or inaccurate.

To increase access to more accurate information about college, district leaders and counselors can leverage social media platforms to disseminate the most critical college messages students are least likely to see on their feeds. EAB developed a series of downloadable social media images and GIFs that distill the most important – yet least common – guidance around college decision-making in a changing COVID world. These ready-made materials are available in multiple designs and colors to match your district’s or school’s branding, and counselors can post them directly on social media platforms to offer essential admissions guidance at scale.

By sharing these messages over social media, counselors can tee up the most critical conversations students need to have before applying and enrolling in college without scheduling additional meetings or advising events.

The content is organized into three major themes:

  1. Don’t pass up on easy money for college.
  2. Know how to stand out to admissions counselors this year.
  3. Don’t just start college; finish it!
the most expensive degree is the one you don't finish infographic

Download this social media image and more using the links below.

Share updated college social media messages in your district or school colors

Advanced Strategies for Forward-Thinking Districts

3. Reframe college advising to ensure college choice focuses on likelihood of graduation

Nearly 40% of students who enroll in college fail to graduate and acquire unnecessary debt that is difficult to pay off without a degree. One of the main reasons is because many high school students apply to and select colleges that are unaffordable in the long run or lack the right student support services that will help them academically succeed. In fact, nearly three-quarters of college students who drop out leave for affordability issues alone.

College counselors can increase the chances that students leave their colleges with a degree and minimal debt by refocus counseling conversations from “which school will accept me?” to:

  1. whether students can comfortably afford to complete a degree at that institution, and
  2. whether the institution is prepared with enough academic supports to see them through.

Refocusing college advising conversations on these two elements is proven to boost enrollment at institutions with higher success rates and dramatically increase students’ likelihood of earning a degree in 4 years.

EAB developed a Success-Focused Counseling Toolkit to provide counselors step-by-step guidance around how to guide student decision-making about college to maximize chances of graduation. You can find the toolkit below along with an infographic that is designed to teach students about choosing affordable colleges where they are most likely to succeed.

4. Send just-in-time summer text reminders to increase college matriculation rates

One-third of admitted college students fail to make it to campus in the fall. Once students graduate from high school, those who don’t have access to family guidance are often left to navigate the final pre-college steps independently. This “summer counseling dead zone” can be dangerous territory for many recent high school graduates. Students who accepted a college—but cannot access summer guidance—face greater risks of not completing the final requirements necessary to enroll in their chosen school.

To provide students with the guidance they need to make it to campus in the fall, districts should extend college guidance during the summer after senior year. One way is to send automated text messages that remind students about impending enrollment to-dos before each deadline. These text messages help ensure students submit their housing preferences and enroll in required classes in time for colleges to process them. Setting up these automated text message reminders takes only a few hours, and it significantly improves students’ chances of enrolling.

Want to learn more and get ahead of one of the largest impending student success problems?

EAB asks you to accept cookies for authorization purposes, as well as to track usage data and for marketing purposes. To get more information about these cookies and the processing of your personal information, please see our Privacy Policy. Do you accept these cookies and the processing of your personal information involved?