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Education and Career Planning in High School: A Longitudinal Study of School and Student Characteristics and College-Going Behaviors


Arizona is one of many states that require high school students to develop education and career plans, also known as individualized learning plans. The planning process is intended to encourage students to think more intentionally about their future coursework, career aspirations, and preparation for postsecondary education. However, policymakers and practitioners alike lack knowledge about how these practices are implemented in schools nationwide. Moreover, little evidence exists to describe how participating in specific education and career planning practices may relate to students' completion of key milestones on the road to college. REL West's study is examining the landscape of implementation and exploring the possible links between planning and student outcomes—such as the relationship between developing a plan in 9th grade and the likelihood of filling out the FAFSA. The initial evidence generated from the study will help the Arizona Department of Education and other state agencies nationwide understand what practices tend to take place in schools and determine whether some of those merit a closer look as pieces of a formal state policy.

Research Questions:

  1. To what extent are education and career planning practices implemented in high schools nationwide? How do these practices vary across schools with different student populations, teacher/counselor characteristics, and locales?
  2. To what extent does student exposure to education and career planning in high school vary by student characteristics, including race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and prior achievement? Within schools that implement planning practices, to what extent do students report exposure to education and career planning?
  3. What is the relationship between student exposure to education and career planning in high school and students' college-going behaviors, such as submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), completion of a college preparatory curriculum, application to a postsecondary institution, and immediate enrollment in postsecondary education after high school?

Study Design: REL West is using a national database to examine school characteristics and student participation in education and career planning activities over time. The study follows approximately 21,000 public school students throughout their high school careers. Statistics calculated for the study will show how schools are similar or different in the planning practices they implement, and in which of those practices students report participating. Analysis of student records over time will show whether and how participation in planning is related to achieving key college-going milestones.

Projected Release Data: Winter 2020/2021

Research Alliance: Arizona Partnerships for Education and Career Success (APECS)

Study Related Products: Descriptive Study

Principal Investigators & Affiliation:

Mary Rauner, Thomas Torre Gibney