How to Improve High School Graduation Rates with Planning

It’s a question that every high school student faces at some point, a well-meaning inquiry from proud and excited family and friends: “What are you doing after graduation?”

Societal norms have conditioned us to expect a certain kind of answer: “College!” Today, though, it’s just as likely (if not more so) to hear students say that they are pursuing paths that don’t involve college right away or at all.

This is largely due to changes in the economy and workforce, as well as perceptions of the value of a college-only education. Today, many people believe that college is an expensive proposition that doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of a high-paying career.

Students emerging from high school have more ways of building successful futures, and school districts are taking notice by expanding resources and support for these various pathways. In doing so, they are laying the foundation for greater overall success for the entire district and their surrounding communities.

By putting equal focus on college-bound and non-college-bound educational pathways, schools send a powerful message that helps improve graduation rates by inspiring all students to take a hands-on approach in planning and the learning required to achieve their goals.

Supporting All Student Pathways

Informed by changes in the economy and labor markets, more students are opting to delay college or skip it altogether. They are seeing better alignment between their aspirations and options that do not necessarily require four years on a college campus and the debt that goes with it. This is reflected in growing concerns about the value of college. A June 2021 survey by Third Way and New America showed that almost two-thirds of students believe that higher education is not worth the cost. This is up from about 50% in a 2020 survey.

As a consequence, we’re now seeing more students pursue options that have always been available, such as taking a gap year, attending vocational school, taking on apprenticeships, going straight into the workforce, or joining the military.

School counselors can have a significant lifelong impact on students who choose these career paths by developing programs and resources that provide information, learning and experience opportunities, and encouragement through proactive planning.

This is requiring an evolution in the traditional points of emphasis in career counseling for students at the secondary level. The good news is that this evolution is being supported by technologies that make it easier to link students to the resources that they need, no matter which pathway they prefer, and to enable them to take the lead in shaping the future that they desire.

Improving High School Graduation Rates with Career and Academic Planning

By showing a sophisticated understanding and support for all career options, counselors may find that they have an enhanced ability to spark student engagement in the planning process. They can send the message that students who pursue paths other than college have viable career options available to them, including many jobs that pay more than ones requiring degrees.

Rather than potentially feeling that they have been forced down a path that doesn’t make sense, the students become motivated through the exploration of all the available options for their post-high school lives.

The ultimate goal for schools is to provide students of all kinds with equitable access to the resources that they need, starting in middle school, to pursue whatever path they wish. The pursuit of one or more paths can be solidified through the development of a four- to six-year plan to provide the foundation needed for success. This helps produce increased engagement, and that increased engagement can help lower the risk of dropouts and improve school outcomes in a way that leads to higher graduation rates.

Finding the resources to tackle this approach has been difficult for many reasons. One is a simple demographic fact: school enrollments are rising but budgets have not kept pace, according to St. Bonaventure University. The National Center on Education Statistics showed a 7% enrollment increase between 2000 and 2016, but only a 1.2% increase in education expenditures. At the same time, more is being asked of counselors, as students contend with increased stresses from challenges such as school violence, bullying, social media, and other socio-economic factors. All of this is taking place at a vast scale: a 2017 study found that 1,364 higher learning institutions processed more than 10 million applications.

Against the backdrop of these challenges, school counselors are now being asked to expand their knowledge and support for the full continuum of options available to students. For instance, Alexandria schools in Virginia have made providing career and technical education a key pillar of its graduation improvement plan.

New technology applications can help streamline the process to help students build and engage with their plans and identify the resources that they need to make their dreams come true.

Helping Students Make Choices

Counseling departments need new tools to help them take on a broader worldview and support students who choose to go straight to work or other options outside of college, and XAP can help. It is an educational technology company now in its fourth decade of being devoted to providing technology applications that enable counselors and students to work together on building an exciting foundation for future careers.

XAP’s main tool is Choices360, which has a central hub of resources for guiding students on their post-secondary journeys. It includes modules for guiding planning, tracking progress, and measuring results. In essence, it can help get students where they want to go, regardless of what it takes to get there.

While the application has modules targeting the college process, it can also help create strategies to prepare for trades, the military, or other paths.

Today, XAP’s products are used by thousands of kindergarten through twelfth-grade students and postsecondary institutions and adult agencies in the United States and Canada. They play a role in defining student success for the long term, no matter the pathway chosen.

Explore XAP’s comprehensive and proven online solutions for promoting academic and career readiness for learners of all ages.

Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.

To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!

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