Teacher and Principal Perspectives on Supports for Students' College and Career Pathways

Findings from the American Educator Panels

by Melanie A. Zaber, Laura S. Hamilton

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Research Questions

  1. What are principals' and teachers' perceptions regarding the availability and quality of postgraduation transition supports for college and careers in high schools across the United States?
  2. What parties do principals and teachers perceive as holding responsibility for student college and career readiness, and to what extent are their views in alignment?
  3. To what extent do principals and teachers report that students have equitable access to information and supports, both within and across schools?
  4. What changes in supports do principals and teachers recommend to improve students' postgraduation transitions?

Schools play a critical role in brokering access to college and career information and resources. The authors used the American Teacher Panel and American School Leader Panel to survey nationally representative samples of teachers and principals in U.S. public high schools about their perceptions of the quality and availability of their schools' supports for college and career transitions. The authors found that, although both groups of educators reported widespread supports, inequities both within and between schools are likely to limit some students' opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed after high school, as well as their awareness of available postsecondary pathways. Although sufficient postsecondary transition support was widely reported for high-achieving students, sufficient support for underrepresented minority students, low-income students, and underachieving students was reported less frequently. More than half of high school principals reported no access to data on their students' postsecondary remedial education or graduation rates. Finally, a geographic analysis concluded that local employment and region also play a large role in determining what supports are available for college and career pathways: High-resource schools do not unilaterally have more supports. Educators, school leaders, and policymakers alike can benefit from understanding the role of school supports and school context in contributing to or narrowing gaps in college and career outcomes.

Key Findings

Educators expressed positive opinions about the quality of their schools' supports, but some disparities remain

  • Although most teachers reported that high-achieving students were well supported for postsecondary transitions, rates for underachieving students, minority students, and low-income students were lower.
  • Principals tended to provide more-favorable responses than teachers about school supports. This might reflect differences in principals' and teachers' scopes of responsibility, with principals tending to have greater awareness of schoolwide supports and activities than teachers.

Educators reported believing that teachers, students, and families influence future careers

  • The only role whose importance educators differed on was high school college and/or career counselors. Fewer than half of teachers classified them as having a major impact on students' careers, while more than 60 percent of principals reported them as having a major impact.

Postgraduation transition supports are unequally shared and distributed

  • Almost half of teachers reported having no information or resources about apprenticeships to share with students, and another 20 percent of teachers had not shared apprenticeship information with any students.
  • More than half of the high school principals reported having no access to data on their students' postsecondary remedial education or graduation rates.
  • Teachers in urban and high-poverty schools reported significantly higher rates of data access than teachers in nonurban and low-poverty schools.
  • High-resource schools do not have more supports for college and career pathways: Geography, local employment, and school context play a large role.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Overdeck Family Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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