New findings on college and career advising provide insights for Washington

A graphic image of The State of College and Career Advising in WA

Washington state currently ranks near the bottom when it comes to the percentage of students enrolling in postsecondary programs after graduating from high school. The vast majority (90%) of Washington high schoolers say they want to pursue an education after graduation, but unfortunately only 50% enroll in a postsecondary program. What might be driving this gap? 

Our Washington State team worked with social impact consulting firm Kinetic West to identify the critical components of high-quality high school advising and to assess the performance of college and career advising in Washington state.

What Kinetic West learned: Most schools and districts in Washington have a vision for college and career success, but the consistent implementation of college and career advising often falls short.

Schools have limited staffing, time, and resources

Resources mean everything to schools, and our schools have limited time, money, and training to support consistent and effective advising. In a survey conducted by Kinetic West, only the respondents from the largest districts reported having a role dedicated to college and career advising. In many districts, high school counselors, who already juggle multiple responsibilities, serve as college and career advising leads. It’s rare for other school staff to be trained to speak to the basics about college advising, leaving overburdened counselors to carry the weight.

Partnerships are distributed unevenly

Highly trained community-based organization (CBO) partners offer a solution to the resource gap. Across the state, CBO partners provide deep outreach and individualized support to underserved students and families. Partners also help by organizing resources, trips, and trainings for districts.. However, these important partners are not evenly distributed statewide, and districts close to universities and urban areas benefit from these partnerships more than rural areas.

Curriculum is inconsistent and does not always center student needs

Many schools and school districts don't have a clear advising curriculum that covers all the essential topics and skills for postsecondary planning. Most districts in the survey said they provide weekly or quarterly college and career advising content to students starting between 7th and 9th grade. That content can vary from more intense efforts like a class or field trip to lighter lifts like emails or newsletters. Meanwhile, many of those at the school level told Kinetic West they were unsure if their district even had a college and career advising curriculum. Respondents also stressed that student perspectives haven’t guided their college and career advising curricula.

Data is hard to access and inconsistently used

Schools are working the best they can to improve college and career advising for students but are left in the dark without access to timely and actionable data. Information is often siloed and not easily accessible to the staff and partners advising students. Districts struggle to get clear statistics on what happens to their students after graduation. Many schools don’t have access to online college and career advising platforms along with real-time student data to track college and career progress across partners. This, coupled with lack of a standard college and career advising platform at the state level, leads to inequity across Washington’s schools and districts.  In response to the data access inequity, the state passed a budget to support developing a standard college and career advising platform and issued a request for proposals to begin this work in June 2024. 

Ashley DeLatour, executive director of programs at FuturesNW, served on Kinetic West’s advisory committee for this research, and shared that the findings weren’t at all surprising. Instead, they were a reminder of the questions we all need to keep asking.

“How do we make meaningful shifts in the ways that we're doing things so that it's not the most capable and most advantaged in the system that are rising to the top, but that we're creating an environment for everyone to rise together and get access to education and training – and to build a system that unifies us rather than divides us and cuts us up?”

Washington has some of the building blocks of effective college and career advising, but more work is needed to scale efforts so that every student has a consistent and comprehensive advising experience. In the second blog post of this series, we will highlight the key elements of successful college and career advising programs. 

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November 2022 Newsletter: Our new Washington state strategy

I have deep love for the state of Washington. It’s been home for most of my life, and I even recently bought my parents’ house – bringing my Washington state story full circle. Years ago, when I set my roots in Washington state, I was a shy and awkward student with big hopes and dreams about what could be for our state and world.