Equity of Opportunity: Optimizing for Underserved Students

March 4, 2022
Read Time: 3 min
By XAP

HVAC installers, truck drivers, and computer support specialists are among the dozens of occupations that do not require a four-year college degree. These essential positions are in demand and often come with annual wages that exceed the national average. Yet, school career and college planning programs have historically focused on the needs of college-bound students.

Increasing college access has been a priority of the federal Department of Education since the post-WWII era. For many students and their families, a bachelor’s degree is seen as the best route to a successful career and financially secure future. School counselors do play a vital role in helping students explore degree programs, select and apply to colleges, and secure financial aid. However, this emphasis on college means that students are often not exposed to or do not understand the full range of career options. Students whose interests and aptitudes point to careers that require technical training or other non-bachelor degree credentials are underserved in career and college planning programs that focus more on college admissions.

Closing the Opportunity Gap for Non-college-bound Students

According to the National Skills Coalition, 52% of jobs in the US require some post-secondary skills training, yet too few Americans have access to the necessary training to fill these positions. This has created a skills mismatch, leading to a nationwide labor shortage that pre-dates the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic. The intersection of industry need and student need lands squarely in the school counselor’s office.

The Overburdened School Counselor

On average, school counselors are carrying caseloads well in excess of the 1:250 recommended by the American School Counselor Association. In some schools, counselors are assigned more than 400 students, making it impossible to uncover all the factors driving each student’s behaviors, decisions, self-concepts, desires, and talents. Even counselors in schools with better ratios may be overwhelmed trying to meet everyone’s unique needs. Students need the tools to begin this work for themselves.

A self-directed, comprehensive career and college planning program, one that enables students to explore various post-secondary pathways on their own, can close the gap and provide equity of opportunity.

Defining Destinations and the Curriculum to Get Them There

Exposing students to the wide range of career possibilities can spark excitement about their futures, enabling them to recognize options that align with their interests, options that they may not have known existed. A curriculum that guides students along a career path can transform idle dreams into concrete actions. This is a powerful motivator that will keep students engaged in school. They will make the education-career connection and select coursework and post-secondary education options that will lead them toward their career goal, whether that goal entails career and technical education, military service, on-the-job training, an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or graduate work.

Making It Easier to Create Equitable Programs for All Students

The generation now in school was born into a hyperconnected world. Using computers and mobile devices to find answers and explore the world comes second nature to them. Many find seeking information on their own less intimidating than a face-to-face meeting with a counselor. Technology can’t replace counselors, but it can give students a motivating level of control as they independently explore career options, assess their skills and proclivities, and complete the steps needed to advance their post-secondary plans.

With occupation exploration software, students may be exposed to possible life pathways as early as third grade. Age-appropriate materials with user-friendly, game-like interfaces can introduce elementary students to the world of work that reaches beyond their personal experience.

Middle and high school students can take assessments, explore career possibilities, and investigate post-secondary education options using self-directed career and college planning programs. Technology can facilitate the processes of selecting appropriate courses, applying for college, requesting letters of referral, and identifying scholarships and grants. Most importantly, while four-year college will be a goal for many, a comprehensive career and college planning program will expose students to the full range of options available, including associate degrees, CTE, and military service.

While empowering students, career exploration technology is also a powerful tool for counselors who need to collect and organize data. A central dashboard breaks open data silos, and school counselors can stay on top of each student’s progress and create actionable reports.

A XAP representative can help you learn more about how technology can streamline the career and college planning program in your district to meet the demand for equity of opportunity.

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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