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Equity

How SchooLinks is Helping School Districts Tackle the ‘Equity Gap’

Students deserve equity in experience, opportunity, and outcome. That’s the driving force behind the SchooLinks platform.

Theresa Rex
Theresa Rex

Jun 01, 2021

 

What happens after graduation day? The popular narrative suggests that after a summer of well-earned relaxation and a round or two of tearful goodbyes, graduates embark on the next big thing: college.

And many students will matriculate in the fall. They will move into dorms, plan to rush sororities or pledge fraternities, attend first year orientation activities, and buy the requisite pallets of ramen noodles. They’ll make homesick phone calls, pull all-nighters, declare their majors, and cram for finals.

Many won’t.

We can’t close the achievement gap without confronting inequities first

 Be honest: did those two words — “Many won’t” — conjure up a negative image in your mind? We’re not judging! If they did, you’re far from alone.
 

Thanks in large part to the many benefits that a four-year degree confers, on average, to college graduates, we’ve begun to think of student outcomes as existing on two poles.

There are the ones that go to college (and are successful!) and those that don’t (and don’t fare so well). Even if you know that there’s much more to the story than that, it’s hard to battle decades of conditioning that positions going to college as the gold standard and anything else as second best.

After high school, life looks like a lot of things depending on who you are:

  • There are students that spend a year or more deciding what direction they want their lives to take, working to earn money while they do.

  • There are the ones that will graduate with an Associate’s degree in one hand and a high school diploma in the other; ready to pursue technical education; a higher degree; or jump straight into a career they are passionate about.

  • Others will head off to college, as first generation college students, and attempt to balance academic rigor with a part-time work schedule.

  • Still others will have the financial support of their families and the benefit of the experience of generations who went before them.

What do all of these hypothetical high school grads have in common?

Each of them deserve the same attention, information, resources, and robust college and career exploration experience, no matter what path they’re taking or where they’re starting from. They deserve equity in experience, opportunity, and outcome. That’s the driving force behind the SchooLinks platform, and it’s a big part of why school districts partner with us.

Here’s how we do it: 

SchooLinks’ student experience recognizes the value of every postsecondary focus

Whether they’re pursuing higher education, heading straight to the workforce, or working toward professional training and industry certification, the end goal is essentially the same: eventually, we all have to enter the workforce.

That’s why it’s so perplexing that college and career readiness platforms position receiving an acceptance letter from a college admissions office in the mail as the ultimate end goal. What about everything that comes after that?

And what about everyone else?

That’s what we hoped to answer for students with SchooLinks. We wanted to take the same robust approach for every outcome and every student, including the ones that are driven and passionate enough to explore career development early or in fields experiencing skill shortages

The features on SchooLinks enable in-depth career discovery from anywhere

With some college and career readiness platforms, career-focused discovery can feel like an afterthought. That’s a shame, not only because it asks students to fit their skills and interests into a set of predetermined outcomes, but also because it limits the awareness students would otherwise have of well-paying jobs they might be suited for.

 The training and education required for many of these jobs are affordable, local, and accessible before students every graduate thanks to early college, P-TECH, and H-TECH programs designed to give students a head start and correct disparities in talent pipelines.
 

On the SchooLinks’ platform, students move through activities like skills assessments and career interest inventories and see a ranked list of the career clusters that are likely to be a great fit. They have the chance to explore the industries, professions, and job markets that spark their curiosity and take ownership of the future they see for themselves.

SchooLinks uses current and predictive labor market data to show students which careers are — and will be — the most in demand both in their region and across the country.

Students explore careers shaped by their skills and interests, free from geographic restraints with information from real-world industry professionals all over the country.

From within the local community, our industry partner portal facilitates the engagement that lays the foundation for the professional networks students need for long-term success. Students can see and take advantage of opportunities like mentorships and internships that level the playing field early for more equitable outcomes overall.

SchooLinks' cross-compatible technology reflects the spectrum of access points

 When college and career exploration is engaging, students naturally direct the process themselves, taking ownership of their own outcomes because they want to, not because they are ticking a set of required boxes to graduate.
 
It’s unfortunate that with some platforms, they don’t always have the opportunity to do that once they leave school grounds. At SchooLinks, we understand that equity isn’t just about providing a best-in-class experience to students no matter which path they’ve chosen.
 
Equity also means access, which means making sure that students have the ability to pursue their goals and interests and cultivate their abilities from wherever they are and whenever they need to.
 
We understand that just because students may have one device to use at school, they don’t necessarily have the same one at home. We built SchooLinks to be as clean, intuitive, and functional no matter the device, operating system, or network.
 

Our exploratory activities take nothing for granted

When the coronavirus pandemic brought “standard” rites of passage in the postsecondary planning process to a screeching halt, a lot of attention was devoted to wondering what the lack of campus tours and college rep visits would mean for students.

But for many students, not being able to tour a college campus isn’t new, and it never has been. It’s expensive to travel, both in opportunity cost and airfare. Even nearby colleges can feel impossibly far for students that depend on part-time wage work to get to campus in the first place.

Families that use public transportation and depend on a shared car have always had to either get creative with college campus exploration or do without it completely. Even before the pandemic, SchooLinks’ growing collection of virtual reality campus tours helped deliver to some families what others take for granted.

We were well-positioned to help connect students to college reps, industry mentors, and college campuses in the pandemic because we didn’t consider easy access to these things to be a default setting beforehand. For many families, it isn’t. That won’t change once things gradually go back to “normal”. That’s why we’ll always look for ways to bring more of these experiences to the districts we partner with.

We democratize financial aid and literacy resources to level the playing field

 Applying to and enrolling in college is daunting enough. For student populations that are forging that path for the first time within their families or are from otherwise challenging backgrounds, it can feel downright Herculean.
 
And remember the opportunity cost associated with touring college campuses? It doesn’t suddenly disappear when it comes time to find grants, scholarships, and loan information. Finding those resources has traditionally required a lot of spare time and a low tolerance for frustration.
 

SchooLinks democratizes access to financial aid information by aggregating scholarship information, including deadline reminders so that students can spend less time turning over every rock they can find and more time applying for these resources.

 Our platform goes beyond simply delivering information so that students can better understand what to do with it. Financial literacy activities, FAFSA-tackling, scholarship matching, and student loan information are centralized, easy-to-understand, and integrated into the overall experience.
 
For many college-bound students, especially the ones that have to be their own biggest advocates, these resources help reduce the number of obstacles between where they’re starting from to where they’re headed.
 

SchooLinks gives districts a data-driven approach to close achievement gaps

Everything we’ve discussed so far helps create equitable student outcomes on an individual level. That’s important to us.

But we also know that there’s a bigger battle here. Widening achievement gaps due to disparity have only been exacerbated by the events of the past year.

We understand that school districts need rich, detailed insights to push back against situational and systemic obstacles for students. We can provide those insights. We make it possible for districts to turn “data-driven decision-making” into an actionable strategy and not just an over hyphenated string of buzzwords.

We deliver insights so counselors and administrators get a big-picture view or zoom all the way in on specific cohorts so they can identify trends, seize opportunities and make the interventions and improvements that will deliver the most impact.

Our school districts put the work in every day to advocate for student success and confront and correct inequities. We’re proud to be a part of that, and as long as there’s work to do, we’ll never stop innovating for every student, from every background.


Want to see how SchooLinks can help close the equity gap for your district's students? Book a demo and get a personalized tour of our equity-focused feature and tell us how we can help you meet your goals.

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Theresa Rex

Theresa Rex is the content marketing manager at SchooLinks. She is a first-generation college grad and an absolute nerd for equity and em dashes.