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The Need for Equitable Student Support

Within the Puget Sound College & Career Network (PSCCN) at the Puget Sound Educational Service District, we believe that all young people have unfathomable brilliance that we should cultivate and uplift. It is with their creativity, passion, and vision that we will address the systemic injustices and inequalities facing us today. Local students want an education beyond high school; in fact a recent survey revealed that 95% of students surveyed want postsecondary education. Despite the high aspirations of our local students, just 41% of students earn a postsecondary degree, and only 27% of Black/African American students and 23% of Latinx students earn postsecondary degrees, limiting their access to the majority of living-wage jobs in our region that require a postsecondary credential. 

PSCCN builds capacity to implement effective, gap-closing policies, programming, and supports to change these outcomes. PSCCN intentionally cultivates and engages a diverse network including students, educators, community organizations, schools, districts, colleges, and state-level organizations, prioritizing engagement with leaders and educators of color and others who have a lived experience of system failures caused by systemic racism and oppression. PSCCN works to increase equitable postsecondary readiness and completion for Black, African American, and Latinx students, students impacted by poverty, and those who are first-generation to college across King & Pierce Counties. We are committed to removing barriers for students to access and obtain postsecondary credentials. 

For many students of color, first-generation students, and students impacted by poverty, navigating the pathway to postsecondary education can depend on the presence of educational guides, both inside and outside of the school system. A lack of support can leave students unable to explore college and career options, understand academic and other requirements, and navigate the labyrinth of a college application and financial aid processes. Even when a student is able to successfully enroll, they often will find that their college also lacks adequate support to help them be successful. 

The need for equitable student support is underscored by the conditions of a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color across the nation. As students adapt to the dramatic shift toward remote learning and families face increased economic pressures, it is projected that more students will change their postsecondary plans. Now, more than ever before, we need to provide even more supportive guidance, ensure clear pathways from K-12 to colleges, and address policy gaps that lead to racial inequities. 

Our aspirations are informed by the views of local students and include:

  • All young people, especially students of color and students who have been historically underserved by our systems, receive high-quality support to choose, pursue, and succeed in their postsecondary path.
  • Students and families of color are engaged, early, meaningfully, and consistently as active participants to co-design support services that meet their needs.
  • Students of color in all high schools are supported by knowledgeable adults to explore and choose a postsecondary path and complete required college applications and financial aid forms during the school day.
  • Students of color experience fewer barriers as they transition from high school to postsecondary because of closer cross-systems coordination, alignment, and systems transformation.
  • All students in the King County community and technical colleges, especially students of color, are connected with reliable advising and support to navigate academic and life barriers so they can complete their credential and transition to family-wage careers.

Two highlights of PSCCN’s recent work include: 

PSCCN is coordinating a collaborative research study on the impact of local college placement practices with Highline College, Community Center for Education Results, and an advisory board including local colleges, districts, community organizations, and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. Study findings will reveal the impact of various local placement practices and policies, especially for Black and Latinx students. As soon as these findings are finalized, they will be shared widely with local college leadership, educators, and students along with student stories about the impact of placement practices, gathered through the qualitative portion of this study, and recommendations for policy improvements. 

Throughout the past three years, PSCCN has facilitated the development of King County Promise, a comprehensive approach to connecting youth to the postsecondary education and credentials they need and want. It is designed to address long-standing racial equity gaps, by eliminating systemic failures and providing critical navigation support to students on both alternative and traditional pathways to college. It centers a vision for improved equity in college access and success for historically underserved young King County residents. King County Promise goals:

  1. Provide students who have been historically underserved with more high-quality advising and support services to help them make the most of their opportunities.
  2. Fix the disconnects between the different parts of our fractured K-16 educational system. 
  3. Offer a local evidence base as a demonstration to the state for future investments.

This local evidence-based and community-driven model will be launched in 2021 and scaled over the next 15 years. 

To learn more about PSCCN’s work and to get involved, visit www.psccn.org 

Gurjot, a college student at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU): “Only a few years ago, I was a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School contemplating my future and trying to decide which college I’d go to. As a first-generation college student, I felt overwhelmed. Where should I go? How do I apply? Will I do well once I’m there? Language barriers and a lack of knowledge prevented my parents from helping my siblings and I with the process. However, this is a common struggle for a lot of students throughout King County. Especially, for historically underserved populations of first-generation, low income, students of color… There is a direct correlation between the resources a school is provided and the success of their students. Luckily, my graduating class was a part of a mentoring program that provided students with extra school supplies, took them on college field trips, assisted with college apps, and connected with their families. But since the program only applied to my high school class of 2017, it was like winning a lottery. That’s not how our education system should work. Don’t all our students deserve the same support?”