All Roads Lead to ?

While discussing the gap in educational data systems in California one evening, a friend and K-12 colleague pointed out that after high school, students arrive at one of just a few destinations – postsecondary education, the workforce, the military, or the justice system. I had never considered high school outcomes in such stark terms, but I could not disagree on the surface with that synopsis. Her point in this illustration was that with just a few sets of data that was flowing bi-directionally each system could be learning a lot more about how and why students arrive at any of those destinations and, more importantly what and where opportunities existed along the road to these outcomes. It seemed like a very clear and compelling argument for better coordination among educational and other systems.

There seems to be little disagreement that a lack of alignment across the educational and career continuum contributes to gaps in policy and more importantly real impacts on students and communities. The identification of these gaps, particularly between K-12 and postsecondary education, have been noted for several decades (Rippner, 2017). While students and families may have clear educational, career and familial aspirations, the lack of coordination and alignment has real and lasting impacts on the educational and subsequent career attainment of individuals (Kirst & Venezia, 2004; Venezia, Kirst, & Antonio, 2003).

The establishment of state or regional Pre-Kindergarten through college (P-20) entities are councils are not a new concept. They originate from a need to bridge America’s historic emphasis on decentralized and fragmented education systems. In some states, they operate as statewide entities, with varying degrees of membership, authority and accountability (Rittner, 2016). These entities are also often subject to changes in state leadership and changes in state leadership priorities. But such efforts do not have to be statewide or attempt to address every gap in the educational continuum. Success can be found, and perhaps be more meaningful at a smaller, regional level.

Consider California’s Cal-SOAP consortia. The California Student Opportunity and Access Program (better known as Cal-SOAP) was created through legislation in 1978, facilitating P-20 consortia focused on the improving communication regarding financial aid opportunities in communities with historically lower postsecondary participation. Currently, fifteen consortia operate across the state, facilitating regional collaboration to expand knowledge of and access to financial aid for postsecondary education. Gurantz (2018) demonstrated how the coordinated marketing and advertisement by Cal-SOAP of hands-on assistance in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), increased submission of FAFSA by low income students. These events were largely coordinated through Cal-SOAP through a regional, P20 collaboration to improve access to financial aid.

Cal-SOAP consortia demonstrate the direct benefit of P-20 forums to address alignment across educational systems. In the case of Cal-SOAP, these regional entities that receive some state funding through the California Student Aid Commission, depend on the in-kind investment of local school districts, community colleges, public and private colleges and educational outreach programs. In return, the partners are able to address and mitigate gaps in policy, information and coordination that may impact students and families in their region that they likely could not address alone. And, while they have three-decade track record of convening and catalyzing educational partners in addressing financial aid for low income students and families, Cal-SOAP consortia have also encountered the same challenges that befall their comparable statewide efforts in other states. State budgets, changing statewide leadership priorities and commitment level of local partners have impacted the program with at least two regional consortia folding.

In a state as large and populous as California, perhaps a single, P-20 statewide structure is not the answer. After all, the variance of existing educational attainment levels, regional economies and demographics is greater within the state’s borders than between other states. Perhaps doubling-down and investing in regional P-20 (and beyond) collaboration like Cal-SOAP is the answer to keeping more all students and families on the road to a successful future.


Gurantz, O. (2018). A Little Can Go a Long Way: The Impact of Advertising Services on Program Take-Up. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(3), 382-398.

Kirst, M. & Venezia, A. (2004). From high school to college: Improving opportunities for success in post-secondary education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rippner, J. A. (2016).  The American policy landscape.  New York: Routledge.

Rippner, J. A. (2017). State P-20 Councils and Collaboration Between K-12 and Higher Education. Educational Policy, 31(1), 3-38.

Venezia, A., Kirst, M., & Antonio, A. (2003). Betraying the college dream: How disconnected K-12 and post-secondary education systems undermine student aspirations. Palo Alto, CA: The Bridge Project, Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research.

Join the Conversation


  1. Nathan, thank you for your blog post. I wasn’t aware of Cal-SOAP consortia, it’s crazy that it has been around that long. I like how you were able to provide a real life example of how a P20 type organization exists and the success they have had with helping students complete a FAFSA. It would be really interesting to do a case study on the organization and identify the structure, challenges, and the success they had. Do you know how much influence they may have on education policy? I agree with about taking a regional approach, especially in a state like California. I can see the value in potential in having a organization focused on the alignments of all the education sectors within a region. Thanks again for your post!


  2. Nathan, thank you for this insightful and informative post regarding the Cal-SOAP initiatives. I always enjoy reading your posts. What you said about California ranging more in diverse populations within its borders than between other states is something we have to keep reminding ourselves of when rolling out new policies. (Foley (2019), state policymakers must first seek to understand the unique needs of their district.)

    In terms of this statement: “after high school, students arrive at one of just a few destinations – postsecondary education, the workforce, the military, or the justice system”, do you foresee other options being added to this list with an extra concentration on communities with lower postsecondary education levels?

    Your post reminds me of the reading by Koenen (A phenomenographic analysis of the implementation of competence based education in higher education) that we read for class that stated, “A flexible curriculum needs a shift from supply-driven education with a fixed curriculum to demand-driven education that includes a more facilitative attitude by the institutions, i.e. the students receive more responsibility in their own learning process, while the teacher stimulates and coaches them to develop their own learning route (Ritzen & Kosters, 2002 €)”. Concentrating the Cal-SOAP efforts outreach efforts in areas with lower education rates helped create a demand in an area that on the surface, appeared not to have one.


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