Gone are the days when students’ road to college and career was a one-way street. Today students have myriad paths and options to consider as they travel along their education journey. And while every student’s route to college and career is unique, and can be sparked at many different points through a student’s life, charting this course requires students and their families to make crucial decisions along the way – decisions that can shape their future options and opportunity.
Without the right data to equip and empower students, successful transitions along this journey are often the result of luck, privilege, or family networks and know-how to guide students. But absent the right connections or capital, the vast majority of students and their families are left to make these decisions in the dark, relying on marketing pitches, ambiguous claims, and speculative promises to navigate this journey. Students and families deserve more.
Supporting every student’s journey to college and career requires equipping them with information to help navigate options and find the right path to get where they want to go. Aggregate information about outcomes, pathways, and careers can support students as they refine what they want to be and where they want to go, but as they arrive at critical decision points it’s not enough to simply know which paths are available. To chart a course that is right for them, students need specific data that goes beyond averages and outdated research often based on populations that don’t reflect students’ identities or context. Students and families need data that can speak to the options and opportunities that are unique to them and answer questions like:
- Which early learning environment will put my student on track to read at grade-level by 3rd grade?
- Does the CTE program at my high school successfully equip students with in-demand credentials needed to succeed in the workforce and earn a good wage?
- Are students from my high school prepared to take credit-bearing courses upon enrollment in college?
- Which training program in my chosen field can deliver on its promise to prepare me for a good paying job after graduation?
When students have data to see down the road, they can maneuver with clarity and confidence knowing which paths will help them reach their goals and that they’ll arrive prepared for success.
Ensuring that every student and family has the data needed to navigate their own journey to success is the obligation that states can and must fulfill. Making this vision a reality requires states to break down silos between early education, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce data systems (P20W). Doing this work well, and in a way that generates real value and protects privacy, also requires that states establish strong data governance comprised not only of P20W system leaders, but also the stakeholders they seek to serve. With an inclusive array of voices at the table, state leaders can lay the foundation for a culture of meaningful data use and ensure this information meets the needs of students and families.
Students’ dreams should not go unrealized because they were left to navigate in the dark. States must take action to securely link, govern, and share data across systems to ensure every student has full information to arrive at their desired destination. The stakes are too high for anything less.