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Bridging the Gap for Disrupted Youth: National College Attainment Network Conference Recap

October 12, 2021

As data continues to emerge around high school graduation and college enrollment trends amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that young people are facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to postsecondary transitions. FAFSA applications are down, college enrollment is down, and many districts fear their high school seniors will be at risk of not graduating. With this urgent landscape top of mind, Strada Education Network, Baltimore City Public Schools, and the Linked Learning Alliance came together at the National College Attainment Network’s 2021 Rebuilding for Postsecondary Equity Conference to discuss possible paths forward.

Nicole Torpey-Saboe, Director of Research at Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights, kicked off the conversation with an overview of Listening to Recent High School Grads: ‘Be Mindful of What We Have Gone Through, a new report detailing insights into why recent high school graduates delayed or cancelled their postsecondary education plans during COVID-19. The research found that the levels of stress, fear, and uncertainty the pandemic created was the number one reason young people reported delaying their postsecondary plans. When asked what they needed to succeed after high school, Strada Education found many young people wanted clearer connections to career pathways in their education and greater mentorship from trusted adults.

In reflecting on this research, Rachel Pfeifer, Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Baltimore Public City Schools, shared how her district is working to pivot and respond to student needs just as students are pivoting and responding to their ever changing world. Baltimore City Schools created a Navigator Center, virtually during distance learning and now moving into a brick-and-mortar space, to support high school students and recent graduates through their postsecondary transitions. “Our work is to reengage and reconnect young people,” Anne Stanton, President & CEO of the Linked Learning Alliance added.

Both Anne and Rachel discussed the valuable role partners play in the work to reengage young people. Rachel shared how her community has brought together K-12, higher education, community organization, and workforce development partners to collaborate on solutions to the challenges young people face. In Linked Learning pathways, Anne described how the pandemic actually made partnerships easier for some communities: the virtual element of distance learning allowed industry partners to engage with more students more frequently.

As we continue to address the impacts of COVID-19, distance learning, and disrupted education experiences, Anne remarked that young people need to feel seen. We may not know the full extent of challenges the pandemic created for students for years to come, but we can start addressing the issues we can identify by supporting students through trusted adults, building bridges across education, industry, and community sectors, and, above all, centering the voices and experiences of young people.