News: Collaboration & Partnerships

5 Considerations for Schools Working with Postsecondary Planning Partners

Monday, August 17, 2020  
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By Zenia Henderson, Director of Member & Partner Engagement

As school districts across the country continue to assess their plans for reopening for the fast-approaching 2020-21 academic year, postsecondary planning may not be top of mind for many. Understandably so, when school leaders are overwhelmed with thinking about the many needs and risks involved in reopening that can literally put peoples’ lives at risk, as noted in this Washington Post article. The article leans on a post written by a music teacher in New Jersey, who removes some of the “magical thinking” behind the countless suggestions and ideas about reopening.

A note to our readers: This post is not intended to contribute to the magical suggestions swirling around in the reopening conversations. Rather, my goal is to offer some considerations for our K-12 NCAN members and partners on how to support the much-needed postsecondary planning initiatives that are absolutely critical to ensure the members of your class of 2021 not only safely complete their secondary education, but are set up for a successful postsecondary transition.

Here are some steps schools and districts can take:

1. Share postsecondary planning communications with students and families widely.

As you send out welcome packets, senior letters, and robocalls, or post new information to your school website’s college and career readiness page, consider gathering updates from any community-based partners who support your students about their plans for working with students this academic year. You may have supports provided by a national or local partner that should be included in your schoolwide communications, even if they serve only a portion of your student population. These partner organizations, too, may have trouble reaching all the students they serve and may need to communicate critical updates about how they will continue supporting students this academic year.

2. Determine a plan for sharing students’ documents/information with your community partners.

Assuming you have a data-sharing agreement in place, consider how you will share critical information about students with your community partners, or even students themselves. Many college access programs may need students’ transcripts in order to properly advise them on their postsecondary options.

Consider how you can ensure your partners have what they need to effectively serve students. Will it be students’ responsibility to request an unofficial transcript? Can you grant your community partners access to the records they need?

3. If your school plans on offering in-person schooling, work with your IT department to determine how you can ensure students have access to the appropriate college access-related websites.

We know many schools limit access to social media sites and other external websites, but consider how your partners communicate with students and what kinds of websites students need to visit as they engage in their college search and other aspects of their postsecondary planning journey.

4. Remember community-based partners are there to supplement and support your work with students so that educators and counselors can focus on educating and counseling.

Students’ social-emotional needs have been exacerbated by the current times with so much uncertainty and disruption. It’s important to view these partners as essential resources to students’ whole-school experience.

5. Invite community partners to the (virtual) table to collaborate on the delivery of supports.

This is what you would put into practice if you are on board with the preceding consideration. It serves K-12 partners to ensure their community-based partners not only collaborate with the school, but also with each other.

If you have an after-school program that has capacity to provide whole-family support with basic needs, and a center-based organization that works exclusively with seniors, you can ensure those partners are also making appropriate referrals and perhaps reaching even more students than has traditionally been the norm.

I recently chatted with some community-based organizations about their collaborative efforts with school partners and local institutions, and here’s what one shared.

“At the onset of the pandemic quarantine, the Be A Leader Foundation rallied with fellow college access and success programs to provide access points for students to receive assistance and timely supports. Key to our successes was having all partners at the table, site-based college access centers, school district liaisons, postsecondary partners including the three in-state universities and community college representatives. By having all partners at the table, not only were we able to actively collaborate and develop solutions, but were able to continue to deepen our relationships.”

Be a Leader Foundation Chief Program Officer Soilo Felix said this about their work in Arizona:

“As the African proverb states ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, the entire Arizona community continues to come together to develop interventions through fostered collaboration focused on the immediacy of supporting our students. Invite, collaborate, build relationships, and foster open communication with your high school and postsecondary partners – remember it takes a village!”

I have firsthand experience as a direct service provider in the college access and success space, serving students from place-based centers, facilitating afterschool programs, and overseeing in-school college advising services. So I hope these considerations are helpful to school leaders and counselors as you think about how to ensure you are moving the needle on students’ postsecondary outcomes.

As the education field continues to work toward closing the equity gaps in postsecondary attainment, NCAN knows that postsecondary pipeline partnerships are a key to success in this effort. The American Talent Initiative and College Greenlight introduced a three-part framework in a new report that lays the groundwork for strong college and community-based organization partnerships.

Many other NCAN members have successful partnerships between and among K-12, higher ed, and community-based organizations. If you're interested in learning more about data and partnership transparency from Cincinnati Public Schools and their StrivePartnership model or about the collaborative work in Arizona from members like Be a Leader Foundation, Flagstaff High School, and others, contact me for more information (

In this uncertain time, it is of utmost importance that students have all the supports they can get to guide them through their postsecondary plans. NCAN is here to help ensure partners are making the necessary connections to each other to ensure students receive these much-needed supports.

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