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D.C. Voices: Using information on early career outcomes

December 15, 2021
  • Julie Rubin

A recent survey suggests that alumni of D.C.’s public schools with access during high school to career supports such as connections to employers, exposure to careers, and professional counseling tend to earn wages 20 percent higher than their peers without access to these types of programming. Access to these supports could have a lasting impact on the lives of the 3,405 students who graduated from D.C.’s public and public charter schools in the 2019-20 school year—51 percent of whom, on average, enroll in postsecondary programs within six months of graduation.  

Many Local Education Agencies (LEAs) offer career supports and counseling to students as they make choices about their postsecondary education and careers. While LEAs in D.C. are already collecting a lot of information on their students, they report having less as alumni transition into postsecondary education and career—when more information on outcomes could make supports and counseling during high school more effective.  

In this latest installment in our D.C. Voices series, we hear directly from students and counselors about just how important career and college counseling is, and the implications that better early career outcomes data could have for students as they make postsecondary education and career choices.

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In the 2019-20 school year, over 3,405 students graduated from D.C. public and public charter schools. 51 percent of these graduates will typically enroll in a postsecondary school within six months.1 However, data are not widely available on when D.C.’s high school alumni finish their degree, what major they study, or what career they pursue. While this information is really challenging to gather, especially in D.C.,2 it has the potential to inform practice and support students along with the practitioners who advise students.

Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in D.C. are already collecting a lot of information to inform practice. In a survey of LEAs representing more than 70 percent of District students, LEAs reported having the most information on students while they are in school and less information as alumni transition into postsecondary education and career. Despite the challenges, LEAs approach postsecondary data collection in a few different ways. First, they can access national databases such as the National Student Clearinghouse to learn more about postsecondary outcomes like graduation rate and number of years to complete. Second, LEAs use alumni surveys to learn the harder-to-capture, often qualitative, information.

One example of how additional data could identify promising practices comes from a survey conducted by Bain & Company on behalf of CityWorks DC.3 The survey found that students who had access to career supports such as connections to employers, exposure to careers, and professional counseling tended to earn wages that were 20 percent higher than their peers who did not have access to these types of programming (See Figure 1). Connecting current high school students to information about what programs offer and what those offerings add could be a helpful tool as they make postsecondary decisions.

Figure 1: Access to career assets improve the incomes of multiple post-secondary degree holders

Source: Bain & Company survey4

In addition to collecting data, many schools in D.C. are already proactively providing information to students to help navigate this transition. For example, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) distributes The Guide, a comprehensive resource that provides personalized information to each student about their progress toward graduation and detailed information about different career paths, associated degree requirements, and income outcomes.5 Both DCPS and D.C. Public Charter Schools also provide access to data via subscriptions to Naviance, an online platform that allows current students to look up colleges to see whether students with similar stats were admitted, waitlisted, or rejected.6

To hear more about how stakeholders are using data when making postsecondary decisions, the D.C. Policy Center reached out to two current high school students in D.C., a director of college programs, and a non-profit career counseling practitioner to ask: What information is important to know about the transition from high school to college or career?

Aaniyah, Senior, HD Woodson High School

A combination of experiences, exposure, resources, and people have influenced what I want to do after high school. Each experience helps me to feel more confident.

After I graduate, I plan to pursue a career education pathway in hopes of starting a career in real estate or as a case manager for kids in need. Recently I updated my resume in preparation for an internship interview this spring through the DCPS Career Bridge Program. I joined this program so that I could build work experience and hope that it will lead to an opportunity after I graduate. I am very proud of all that I have accomplished, and it was cool to see it all in one document summarized. While at HD Woodson, I have participated in many programs and experiences that have prepared me for making plans after high school. For example, I participate in Woodson’s NAF Academy of Engineering with the support of Ms. Shirriel and Ms. John. While in this program I’ve taken engineering courses, and attended field trips, job fairs, and workshops that have exposed me to the field of engineering. I meet regularly with my College and Career Coordinator, Ms. Ottley, to prepare for my future goals. Also, in the mail I received my Guide to Graduation, Career and College where I was able to see what I need to do to graduate and it provided salaries based on my career interests that I selected on my postsecondary survey with my College and Career Coordinator, Ms. Ottley.

Outside of school, I volunteered over the summer with Women Helping Women, an organization that helps women who have been sexually assaulted. Through this organization I provided resources for their kids. This motivated me to consider working with kids as a case manager in the future.

When asked, “What information am I using to inform my plans after high school?” I cannot name just one thing. A combination of experiences, exposure, resources, and people have influenced what I want to do after high school. Each experience helps me to feel more confident. I’ve learned what I like to do and what I do not like to do.

Becca Green, Sophomore, Wilson High School

I hope there are sufficient programs offered or made available to me so that I’m aware of all my options and I’m not just clouded by the idea that college is the only path ahead.

While I am only a sophomore in high school, I still find myself thinking of post-high school life rather frequently. Because of the influence of my parents and teachers, college has always been my goal after high school. After hearing about some of my friend’s experiences at university my desire to attend has only grown stronger. Nevertheless, just because my plan so far has been further education that doesn’t mean I am not open to other options. During my freshman year, I wrote an article for the Wilson Beacon, our school paper, about different paths after graduation by interviewing alumni. I learned about two unconventional routes after high school such as becoming a firefighter and taking a gap year. Hearing about others’ experiences after graduation is the best way I have learned about my options. I have been lucky enough to walk around a number of university campuses with my family and friends in order to see the environment offered at college. Because I am only a sophomore I’ve received limited information from my school about my options after graduation, but I believe that there will be more instruction and, hopefully, exposure to the various options, during my junior and senior years. 

What else do I want from DCPS or D.C. government to help me learn about my post-high school options? I hope that I will have a chance to meet people in different careers, perhaps as speakers or through internships. It would be great to be exposed to lots of different types of experiences—careers, school options, travel options, community service options, and more. Being able to intern or spend a day with people at work or on the job is invaluable. There’s nothing like hands-on experience. I hope there are sufficient programs offered or made available to me so that I’m aware of all my options and I’m not just clouded by the idea that college is the only path ahead.

Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College & Alumni Programs, Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS

It is not an exact science, because our students are not a monolith, but [data] does help us to learn where students who share similar characteristics are finding successes in the college space and sometimes can help us learn what signs we missed that would alert us to a student’s desire to stick through college.

Our program at Thurgood Marshall Academy uses a variety of tools to help students plan for their postsecondary life. We start in ninth grade figuring out with students and their families exactly what the plans and intentions are after high school. If the plan is to secure meaningful employment, we use a set of career and learning style inventories to help the student align their talents and interests with the elective courses we offer. However, the challenge we encounter, once a student has identified a particular career path that is not tied to college, is providing early exposure. When students identify college or a career path that requires college credentials, we can expose them to summer enrichment programs, dual enrollment, AP courses, etc., but for students where college is not the plan, we are limited to community service or strategic alignment with the Summer Youth Employment Program. It would be useful to know of more robust career training programs that engage high school students early and usher them into the postsecondary space and encourage participation in credentialing programs for career advancement.

Specifically for college prep and placement, we use data points from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS), which helps us determine the success rate of first gen, low-income, historically excluded students on varying campuses. Because we have over a decade of placing students in a spread of colleges, we use our internal data to determine spaces that can be of success or challenge for students. We zoom in on things such as family support, grades earned in classes, and attendance to identify comparative patterns of success when recommending students. It is not an exact science, because our students are not a monolith, but it does help us to learn where students who share similar characteristics are finding successes in the college space and sometimes can help us learn what signs we missed that would alert us to a student’s desire to stick through college.

With our alumni program, we use a set of metrics to ensure that our students are persisting. We created an alumni survey that measures: how often students are changing their majors; if they are on track, financially and academically, to graduating within a 4-6 year timeframe; and if they are taking advantage of resources on the campus – internships, study abroad, or joining organizations on the campus. The informational gaps we are seeing is not knowing precisely what our students are doing after graduating college. Unlike the students in career paths, we can anticipate a career trajectory; however, with our college grads, because of the nature of their varying degrees, the job market, etc, it is hard to ascertain, with any certainty, if they are moving towards employment that provides career and financial growth. We can only infer that with earning a Bachelor’s Degree, they are heading in that trajectory.

Griselda Macias, Program Director, New Futures

We use that data [about Scholars’ outcomes] to decide if we should continue to focus on the same pathways or if we should consider other pathways that are leading to financial and professional stability and growth.

At New Futures7, we collect a lot of information about Scholars, what we call our program participants, as they enter our program and after they leave. First, when Scholars apply to New Futures, we have them complete an application (similar to an intake form) where we collect both their contact and demographic data, as well as their education and career plan including potential majors, schools, career pathways, estimated financial plans, and any financial support they have. In addition, after our scholars are selected, we have them take a survey to collect some baseline data, this includes information on educational debt, their response to the CFPB Financial Well-Being Scale, as well as program specific skills outcomes such as time management. This survey is then given a year after they enter our program as a post-survey for the specific skill outcomes as well as their experience with the program and their advisor so far.

As Scholars remain in our program, we also prioritize maintaining updated information through a Semester Update form including contact information, personal details (marital status, parent, languages, COVID impact), current semester information, education program details, financial aid information, and career/internship information. We also ask here for an update on what academic and non-academic challenges they are facing and what on campus and off-campus resources they may be accessing. 

After Scholars exit our program, we collect information through an Alumni survey. The survey collects updated contact information, demographic data, education status, career information, feedback on New Futures program experience, and desired alumni engagement with New Futures. This also focuses on if they felt their career readiness programming that we offered helped prepare them to enter the workforce. We also ask them again to complete the CFPB Financial Well-Being Scale and ask about educational debt for comparison to their baseline data when they entered the program. While we already have a robust data system for current and former Scholars, we wish that we had more access to reach more alumni, who in time we may have lost touch with.

At New Futures, we use the data that we collect to inform the way we support Scholars. Specifically with our alumni data, we can learn how alumni are leveraging their degree(s) in different career pathways (for example, IT versus healthcare). We can also learn more about whether alumni are finding opportunities and growth in their industry of choice. We use that data to decide if we should continue to focus on the same pathways or if we should consider other pathways that are leading to financial and professional stability and growth. The data we collect also informs us on how to advise current scholars in their education and career journey, guide them, and connect them to alumni who are in the industry they aspire to be in. We haven’t been able to act on this yet as we’ve only begun collecting this data this year, we also hope to be able to leverage data from the Semester Update form about what challenges Scholars are facing to improve our existing workshops and advising to be even more relevant to our Scholars. 

Lastly, we strive to always disaggregate our data by race, immigration, school, and career path to see what patterns we can see and potentially learn from. For example we recently found in our Alumni Survey data regarding career readiness, our Scholars who are immigrants generally rated their career readiness lower than our US born Scholars. This has us looking at our career readiness programming to see if we need to be more explicit or add additional supports for those who may have grown up with a very different culture around job searching and the workplace.


  1. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). 2021. 2021 DC School Report Card Data.OSSE. Retrieved from https://osse.dc.gov/dcschoolreportcard
  2. Coffin, C. and Rubin, J. 2021. “Measuring early career outcomes in D.C.” D.C. Policy Center. Retrieved from: https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/measuring-outcomes/
  3. Calma, E. 2021. “D.C. high school alumni reflections on their early career outcomes.” D.C. Policy Center. Retrieved from: https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/early-career-brief/
  4. Ibid.
  5. Stein, P. 2019. “D.C. releases guide to prepare teens for graduation, college and careers.” Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-releases-guide-to-prepare-teens-for-graduation-college-and-careers/2019/04/28/c3cb6a96-6830-11e9-a1b6-b29b90efa879_story.html
  6. Naviance has been shown to have an impact on enrollment decisions. In a study of one district’s adoption of Naviance, the presence of a scattergram had a large impact on historically underrepresented populations like Black, Hispanic, and low-income students – for every additional available scattergram, enrollment at four-year colleges increased by 2.3 percentage points for these students. Naviance and The Guide illustrate the importance that data has on student’s decision-making process. Source: Tate, Emily. 2019. “Naviance wields much ‘power and influence’ in college admissions, Harvard researcher finds.” EdSurge. Retrieved from: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-04-18-naviance-wields-much-power-and-influence-in-college-admissions-harvard-researcher-finds
  7. New Futures is a nonprofit that propels underserved young people through certifications and community college degrees and into rewarding careers across the Washington, DC region. They invest with a deliberate combination of scholarships, academic advising, career coaching, and a lot of heart to help Scholars launch in-demand careers that will lead to financial security.


Julie Rubin

Senior Education Analyst
D.C. Policy Center

Julie Rubin is a Senior Education Analyst at the D.C. Policy Center’s Education Policy Initiative. In this role, she conducts research and data analysis on topics such as the boundary review process, measuring early career outcomes for high school alumni, and enrollment shifts after the pandemic.

Julie brings a rich background to her research, including time spent as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, at the American Federation of Teachers, and in the Executive Office of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Prior to joining the D.C. Policy Center in September 2021, Julie served as a research assistant at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Julie holds a BA in Public Policy Studies from Vanderbilt University, and Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan.

You can reach Julie at julie@dcpolicycenter.org.