Students – particularly first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds – face a myriad of challenges as they try to realize their post-secondary dreams. Students and their families often lack access to resources that are the norm among college-educated families, specifically “cultural capital”—an understanding of the landscape of college and the college and financial aid application processes—and “social capital”—access to social networks that can connect students to college-related information and opportunities. And with the costs of attending college rising and federal and state financial aid failing to keep up with inflation, many also lack the “economic capital” needed to undertake higher education, rightfully fearing taking on extensive debt to pay for college.

Therefore, the landscape of higher education and postsecondary planning is a subject that must be explicitly taught to all students. Without sustained and dedicated time during the school day that honors the complexity of preparing for a postsecondary pathway, we will continue to see vast inequities in degree attainment across socio-economic status and race/ethnicity.

Students should be enrolled in courses in high school that ensure all—not just those with the highest GPA—are planning their postsecondary transition with an emphasis on:

The use of school-based educators allows schools to expand the advising capacity at schools beyond overworked guidance counselors and capitalizes on teacher-student relationships to strengthen postsecondary advising. Schools and districts that invest the resources and time to pursue this strategy experience increases in on-time high school graduation, direct enrollment into a postsecondary pathway among all students, and increased persistence and completion rates in their communities.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

The degree divide is one symptom of a broad and deeply entrenched system of inequality. Often, programs that attempt to address inequitable access to postsecondary planning and success are delivered outside of the school day, by external mentors/advisors, and to a subset of students who may already be on the path to postsecondary success. This is not wrong; we need all of the help we can get. But, it is inequitable. Not all students have access to this type of support because by participating in programs outside of the regular school day, students must by default opt into this support.

To add to the inequality, postsecondary support is often disproportionately focused on students who pursue two-year or four-year degrees. Programs are also rarely grounded in culturally-relevant pedagogy.

An equitable, school-based postsecondary advising program moves from a model of “enrichment for some” to “entitlement for all,” helping all students develop a multicultural college-going identity and affirming the value of multiple postsecondary pathways. As students solidify their plans in 11th and 12th grade, curricular content can be differentiated to support students on these different pathways, and teachers can guide students to the most important milestones associated with each individual students’ needs and goals.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

A school-based postsecondary success model that dedicates time, resources, and capacity to delivery postsecondary knowledge and advising to all students results in:

Several organizations have shown evidence of these outcomes. As evidenced by a 2014 evaluation from the University of Chicago, OneGoal has directly witnessed these improved outcomes across more than 130 schools and districts across the country to implement this strategy. In fact, 86% of OneGoal high school graduates enroll in a postsecondary institution and 76% of those persist one year after high school graduation. And at schools in New York City that have implemented CARA’s whole school and peer leader programs across four years, there has been a 14% increase in postsecondary matriculation rates.

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

There are direct and indirect costs that school and district leaders must consider. Embedding postsecondary access and success work into the school day requires students to be scheduled into a course, or figuring out where postsecondary content can be incorporated into existing courses. This can happen via an existing advisory period or as an elective, credit-bearing course that is added to the master schedule. Under the advisory model, teachers are trained to deliver postsecondary advising and content; districts may choose to support their capacity through per-session pay to meet monthly to do this work. Under the elective, credit-bearing model, the class would replace one period in a teacher’s schedule to ensure they are not taking on a disproportionate course load.

Beyond the indirect costs, school and district leaders who do not have standardized content and curriculum will have to invest in purchasing this material. Programs like OneGoal and CARA offer standardized, research-based, culturally-responsive curriculum that is continually refined and updated, given the constantly changing field of college access. This ensures that as students are engaged in the content, and data is collected on the back end to provide educators with real-time analytics that inform whether students are on- or off-track for postsecondary success. Finally, these programs typically come with training and/or coaching for the adults administering the program who may be new to postsecondary advising and will need to build their knowledge base.

The costs will vary by school or district based on the course model and program vendor chosen, but strong programs will help schools to increasingly build the work into their own infrastructure so that costs decrease significantly over time.

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How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

A school-based model that builds and widens the capacity of adults in a school to ensure ongoing postsecondary advising ensures that “the system” embraces the importance of effective postsecondary strategies. School and district leaders should select partners to: (a) assess the efficacy and equity of existing postsecondary strategies and (b) build the capacity of many adults, not just guidance counselors. Both OneGoal and CARA deliver intensive support to school-based administrators and staff during the first two to three years of the partnership. The intention is that as the capacity of adults in the system is built, external support gradually decreases such that those in schools who know students best and are interacting with students on a regular basis are the ones ultimately responsible for effective school-wide postsecondary advising and support.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

School leaders should begin the work during the spring BEFORE the academic year they intend to launch curriculum implementation. This allows school leaders to work with partners like OneGoal and CARA on the foundational aspects of program implementation: teacher staffing, master scheduling, student course enrollment and investment, and data and technology integration. It also allows educators who will deliver postsecondary curriculum and content the summer to participate in a handful of training sessions that build their knowledge-base, and help them to become familiar with the curriculum and plan their specific scope and sequence for the school year. From there, students would participate in the school-based curriculum when they begin a new academic year in the fall. Therefore, district and school leaders should allow a 4-6 month runway for launch of the program at the start of a new academic year.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • Set up a postsecondary team. This team should include:
  • School administrator(s) who has authority to make changes to scheduling and staffing at the school.
  • Teachers (either advisory or other) who need to be trained on the postsecondary curriculum the school will adopt and deliver as part of the school day.
  • School counselor(s) who is an expert on the postsecondary landscape, can advise students, and can support the scaffolded learning of other staff.
  • Build the course or advisory into the master schedule.
  • Build a sophisticated system to support the tracking of data on student learning and completion of postsecondary transitions milestones.

Monitor and Sustain

  • Dedicate a school-based postsecondary success team that meets regularly (e.g. once a month) to discuss curriculum implementation, engage in continuous improvement cycles, and build coherence between postsecondary priorities and initiatives and other school improvement priorities.
  • Provide ongoing access to data and analytics to ensure schools are collecting key information about students’ postsecondary readiness and likelihood of success.
  • Refine curriculum to be dynamic and responsive to the ever-changing postsecondary landscape.
  • Dedicate staff time for training and coaching to ensure the adults delivering postsecondary advising and curriculum are well-versed in the latest postsecondary knowledge and instructional practices.
Expand Postsecondary Advising - Invest Forward
First Generation College Students - Postsecondary Education - Invest Forward

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Identify a school leader who will be responsible for your postsecondary success work. Support that person to establish a vision for this work, provide them with the necessary resources, and help them align this work to current school-wide systems.
  2. Take stock of the district’s existing strategy.
    Is it equitable? Who gets postsecondary advising and support in a sustained way? Who doesn’t?
    What are the current school and district improvement priorities related to postsecondary success, and how can they be leveraged to support and strengthen this work?
  3. Assess your school’s current organizational structure relative to postsecondary priorities.
  4. Conduct a master schedule audit to understand effective strategies for embedding postsecondary curriculum into your school day.
  5. Invest the resources—direct and indirect—that are proportional to the magnitude of the degree divide challenge the district is up against.

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Finding time in master schedule
    • Solution: Engage with external partners (OneGoal, CARA, etc.) to provide curriculum, coaching, and professional development.
  2. Challenge: Teacher investment
    • Solution: Start with the teachers who are already invested. Many teachers already go above and beyond to support students to and through postsecondary success; leverage their passion.
    • Create ongoing professional development spaces to engage all staff in the mission of postsecondary access and capacity building
  3. Challenge: Budget
    • Solution: Evaluate public funding options in your community including Title I, ESSA, and the recently approved ESSER funds to combat learning loss related to COVID-19.

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

  • Elgin-46, a large diverse district in the outskirts of Chicago, launched a district-level partnership with OneGoal and piloted the program in 2020. Despite the additional challenges of the pandemic, they are already seeing promising results.
  • In New York City, a group of schools partnered with CARA have seen matriculation rates increase by 14%. Those that had begun or completed coaching with CARA continued to provide postsecondary access curriculum and college access counseling to seniors throughout the pandemic on par with earlier years.

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?