3 minute read 9 Mar 2021
Girl sitting on floor of library studying

How districts can improve post-secondary readiness for all students

By Kasia Lundy

EY-Parthenon Principal, US Higher Education, Ernst & Young LLP

Strategist. Education industry thought leader. Wife. Mother.

3 minute read 9 Mar 2021

In analyzing the data from five New England school districts, we discovered significant opportunities to improve post-secondary success.

This report summarizes the key findings of the first year of the Barr Foundation’s “Planning for Post-Secondary Success for All Students” cohort project. This effort brought together five districts from around New England: Hartford Public Schools (CT), Malden Public Schools (MA), Manchester School District (NH), Portland Public Schools (ME), and Worcester Public Schools (MA). This was the first such cohort for post-secondary success that the Barr Foundation had put together, and the first step of the program involved a one-year deep dive into the data. The districts have continued with this multiyear journey and have continued to be supported by the Barr Foundation as they build out and implement action plans.

As part of the cohort, the districts engaged in an assessment of post-secondary readiness of their high school students and strategic planning to improve post-secondary outcomes for all students. The districts based their assessment, reflection and planning on extensive quantitative and qualitative data collected and analyzed by EY-Parthenon’s (EYP) Education Practice and Springpoint.

The EYP team relied on student-level data from the districts’ student information systems to assess students’ experiences in high school and on data from the National Student Clearinghouse to assess students’ experiences in post-secondary settings. As part of this quantitative analysis, the EYP team identified two factors that appear to be most predictive of students’ likelihood to succeed in post-secondary education: student attendance and GPA.

The Springpoint team visited a representative sample of high schools in each district to gather qualitative data to uncover key insights related to the current student experience and help districts and their high schools set a clear path forward to improve this experience. Springpoint utilized a rubric rooted in research-based design principles and national best practices to guide the school observation visits.

The EYP and Springpoint teams came together with the district teams at multiple points during the year-long journey to lead the districts in an inquiry-based process to identify where the quantitative and qualitative data pointed to important conclusions or areas for further exploration. Six key findings emerged across districts as a result of this deep reflection. These findings provided a framework to guide discussions and develop recommendations for possible district actions.

Overall finding: 

Equity gaps result in disparate outcomes for students across certain demographic groups.

Key findings:

  1. The ninth-grade year can be critical to post-secondary success.
  2. Eighth grade “early warning indicators” can play a key role in predicting post-secondary success.
  3. For students without eighth grade early warning signs, high school course failure can be a key indicator.
  4. Students — even those within the same district or school — have inconsistent access to academically rigorous and relevant learning experiences.
  5. The type of higher education institution plays a critical role in outcomes, but student access to different types of institutions is uneven.

The iterative data analysis, reflection and planning cycle identified many opportunities for districts to take action to improve student post-secondary success, but perhaps just as importantly, it also highlighted existing strengths that could become the foundation for future improvements.


Post-secondary success remains an incredibly important issue in education. Especially as technology and innovation continue to shift the landscape of available jobs and careers in the United States, it will likely become increasingly critical to provide the kind of education that ensures that students are prepared for a rapidly evolving future.

In analyzing a full cohort of students, this report attempts to show that there is real utility in tracking and extensively evaluating K-12 and post-secondary data systems. Importantly, there are significant opportunities for developing effective interventions in response to data findings.

About this article

By Kasia Lundy

EY-Parthenon Principal, US Higher Education, Ernst & Young LLP

Strategist. Education industry thought leader. Wife. Mother.