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New Report Centers Student Voices on Postsecondary Readiness

Nicole WatfordRudy Ruiz

Posted October 15, 2021


What did the Class of 2021 – and their younger peers – have to say about the support they received to prepare for college, careers, and life? We recently had the opportunity to help survey over 15,000 middle and high school students, in partnership with Naviance by PowerSchool. Across grades and backgrounds, the results were clear: Students want more support with understanding their strengths and interests, and more opportunities to build career readiness, including through work-based learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left educators grappling with ongoing, shifting challenges – from virtual instruction and digital access to a rapidly evolving postsecondary landscape – as they continue teaching and supporting the nation’s students with compassion and grace. Families also have had to struggle with significant transitions: working from home, becoming more hands-on in their child’s learning experiences, and maintaining safety and security for their families. Students have had to deal with juggling classes in various modalities, with uneven and often limited support, and many high school students have had to do so while weighing uncertain postsecondary options and working part-time jobs to help support their households.

While some students were able to adapt to the “new normal” and thrive in a virtual setting, that was not the case for many. Grades plummeted nationwide. The sudden transition from in-person learning to virtual learning caused a decline in students’ social, emotional, and academic well-being, especially among students in grades 10-12.[1] For graduating high school seniors, the COVID-19 crisis resulted in a shifting postsecondary landscape, adding to the stress of thinking about and planning for their future. More than ever, high school students are wondering, Am I prepared for what’s next? Is college the right choice, right now? Will my college have the support services in place to make me feel welcome and to meet my academic and mental health needs?

This summer, we had the opportunity to help design, implement, and synthesize the 2021 Naviance Student Survey Report: Student Perspectives on College, Career, and Life Readiness. With input from high school students, we introduced new ways of talking about postsecondary options, identifying ‘fit factors’ that matter most to today’s students and recommending strategies to help provide the support middle and high school students say they need.

We found notable differences among student groups’ expectations, with public school seniors having more realistic expectations about the likelihood of working while attending college than their private school peers and first-generation college-going students reporting that the pandemic had a greater impact on their postsecondary plans.

Adding to traditional fit factors, such as campus size and location, the report includes new considerations, such as access to mental health and other student support services, diversity, and cultural empowerment, that will make conversations between students, families, school counselors, and staff more personal and meaningful to finding a great fit.

[1]Duckworth et al. (2021). Educational Researcher.

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