News: Data, Research & Evaluation

Survey: School Principals Optimistic on Postsecondary Transition in COVID Era

Monday, July 6, 2020  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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School principals are increasing postsecondary transition services to seniors and are largely optimistic about those students’ potential postsecondary outcomes. These findings come from a new COVID-19-related supplement to the American School Leaders Panel (ASLP) from the RAND Corporation.

The nationally representative survey breaks up its results into overall responses and those from principals of target and non-target schools. Target schools have higher proportions of students from low-income backgrounds and/or students of color. Among principals from target high schools:

  • 40% report extending college transition and advising supports into the summer for some class of 2020 seniors, and another 38% said they would do so for all seniors.
  • 45% said their school is examining alternative routes to high school graduation for some students who were unable to meet other graduation requirements because of school closures; 36% said they would do so for all students.
  • 39% said they would be connecting some students with financial support for college, while 48% said they would do so for all students.

A surprising (and encouraging) finding is that 70% of principals in the target schools reported “partnering with local postsecondary institutions to ensure that students can enroll in college in fall 2020 (e.g., by aligning enrollment requirements with revised high school graduation pathways)” for at least some students. This figure was higher than principals in the overall sample (63%) and non-target schools (57%) and represents a best practice for improving students’ postsecondary outcomes.

One place where school principals appear optimistic is the extent to which COVID-19 will shift students’ postsecondary outcomes. Principals were asked “How do you expect that each of the following will change as a result of COVID-19–related changes to school programs and practices?” Among their responses:

  • 64% of principals in target high schools said they expected no change in the percentage of seniors who would apply to any type of college.
  • 53% of the same principals said they expected no change in the percentage of seniors enrolling anywhere.
  • 63% said they expected no change in the percentage of seniors enrolling specifically in four-year institutions.

Responses from these target school principals were less optimistic than principals from schools with lower percentages of students from low-income backgrounds or students of color, except on the question of enrolling in four-year institutions. Principals from target high schools were much more likely (8 percentage points) to say there would be no change in the matriculation of their students to four-year schools.

Across all principals, the percentage who said there would be a “large decrease” in either applications, overall enrollments, or four-year enrollments was in the single digits.

The ASLP provides valuable survey data; longtime readers may remember that we last saw this survey when it provided key insight into how school leaders were using data on postsecondary outcomes.

It is encouraging to see high schools providing additional postsecondary transition services to this year’s seniors in an effort to keep them on a path to postsecondary success. Their optimistic expectations for the class of 2020 are clear from the data; NCAN and its members surely will continue working to make that optimism a reality.