Insider's Update

Dec 26, 2023

Insights: Undermatched Pathways

Surprisingly, given our hot economy (has been fastest-growing in the U.S. multiple years recently), our graduates are not especially well situated for the Washington economy. U.S. News Ranks Washington State 31st out of 50 States in PreK-12 Education.

We found that there are a number of affordable and achievable ways for our school system to better support kids leading up to -- and through -- this incredibly important transition.

Overall, we propose developing a true system, in which guidance happens by design rather than by accident, and knowledge is equally available and navigable for all. Though technology is not the solution to most of education's challenges, here it can play a significant role. The current "system" is that guidance counselors are supposed to go out and learn about every sector and every job in the economy, then go out and learn about every post-secondary educational opportunity, how it works, how to get in, how to pay for it, etc. -- and then they're supposed to come back in their free time to advise students on how to navigate this complexity? We'd like to build on the examples and evidence, and collaboratively develop a platform through which students can navigate the many options, starting as early as middle school. Imagine thumbs-up and thumbs-down-ing classes that you like, and being recommended options that match your preferences for the next semester? Imagine being given a top-3 internships recommendation for the summer. Imagine answering questions as you go and having the platform help to guide you a bit in single-screen navigation, like most other applications that students interact with these days. And imagine evidence-based recommendations on strong college and career matches, based on the track record and ROI of the particular higher educational institution, and your preferences re location, cost, areas of study, etc. Imagine continuous improvement and ongoing learning about what's working best for students and families, and constantly improving the system, as we do in other areas of high technology in our state every day.

That system doesn't exist today - not even close. I know this because I was asked to be that system for the high school senior classes that I teach. And it's really hard to do that as a single adviser - even as a team of us working with the students. I have students who still don't have any idea where they want to go, or what might be a match for them, as application deadlines bear down on us. Let's give them an amazing modern experience, like they'd get in a state like Massachusetts. We can do that here, and transform educational and economic opportunity for generations to come!

Today’s Challenges on Undermatched Pathways

  • By 2031, 72% of careers in the US will require postsecondary education and/or training: 42% of jobs in 2031 will require at least a bachelor’s degree, while only 28% will go to workers with a high school diploma or less. Figures below show the percentage breakdown of the job projects through 2031 (1).

Figure 1. Projected distributions of credentials required for national job market in 2031

A graph of jobs and degree

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Figure 2. Estimated 2031 national percentage distribution of jobs by category and degree (under 0.5% of total percentage not annotated)

  • Washington state requires 11% more students to acquire a postsecondary credential to meet the projected 2031 job demand: By the high school class of 2030, the Washington Roundtable set a goal to have 70% of Washington students complete a post-high school credential—such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate—by age 26 (2). Currently only 45% of individuals attain a degree within 8 years of graduation (33% bachelors, 12% Associates/Certificate for class of 2014) (3). To match the projected 2031 job demand, Washington state requires a 9% increase in bachelor’s degrees and 2% increase in associate’s degrees.

Figure 3. Washington State requires 11% more students to acquire a postsecondary credential to meet the projected 2031 job demand

  • The pandemic has made postsecondary attainment projections even worse: Of the 72,500 graduates in the class of 2021, only 40% are projected to attain a credential by age 26 (4). With about a $30,000 difference in median income 16 years after graduation between those with a HS diploma vs Bachelor’s Degree, this equates to about a loss of $108M in annual income across graduates (3).

Hypothesis on Potential Solutions

  • Development of a Dynamic Educational Navigation Platform: To augment traditional guidance counseling, create a technology-driven platform for middle and high school students. This platform aims to offer a more efficient and personalized way to navigate coursework, internships, and post-secondary planning. It is designed to dynamically adapt to each student's interests and provide timely recommendations for their educational and career paths. This Dynamic system will  provide coherence for students navigating their post-secondary transition earlier in their school career (e.g., 7th grade instead of near 12th graduation). The goal is to ensure every K-12 graduate in Washington has access to at least three viable opportunities post-graduation, with the platform assisting in choice-making and application processes.

  • Support students of low-income backgrounds that wish to obtain a postsecondary credential: Over 40 percent of students in public high schools in Washington are low- income (5). Only 49% of students from low-income backgrounds go to college immediately after high school, compared to 79% of students from high-income backgrounds (6).  In Massachusetts students who plan to attend a 4-year college in grades 8 and 10 are 24% more likely to enroll in college and attend a 4-year institution than their peers who did not have such plans (7). Only 23.5% of Washington State students with low-income backgrounds are scoring at their level in Mathematics (8)  even though going beyond algebra 2 has shown to double the probability of obtaining a bachelor's degree (9).

  • Support for Seniors Completing the FAFSA: Washington ranks 47th in the nation on students completing the FAFSA with only 45% of Washington State Seniors completion compared to the 59% national average (10).

  • Improve enrollment of dual credit courses, especially for low and minority students: Massachusetts has shown a 16% increase in postsecondary enrollment and 13% increase in postsecondary attainment for low income students that had early exposure to college courses which came at no extra cost to individuals or their families (11).  In Washington, while 90% of students enroll in any dual credit course, there is significant disparities in enrollment across racial minorities (e.g., 73% for American Indians) and those of low income (e.g., 85%) (12).

  • Support students who do not wish to go to college with other post-secondary opportunities such as trades: There are only 14 CTE skill centers in Washington State and these require high school students to commute to attend and get exposure to trades (13).

Potential Impactful Solutions

  • Development of a Dynamic Educational Navigation Platform: Wake Forest University has developed a technology toolkit that supports counselors effectively leverage their time in support of students improving student’s ability to match with careers and plan for post-secondary attainment (14). Washington State Institute for Public Policy has found that high quality postsecondary advising can lead to over $20,000 in net benefit to society per participant (15).

  • Support students of low-income backgrounds that wish to obtain a postsecondary credential: Intense student advising programs supporting low-income student (e.g., tutoring, advising, identifying students’ desired career, building a strong resume, strengthening their networks, and connecting to career-relevant experiences) that cost $6000 over 5-6 years have shown an increase in 43% in postsecondary graduation rates (16). Engaging parents and students early on scholarship programs such as what the the Chehalis District did with the College Bound Scholarship can improve exposure to college opportunities (17).

  • Support for Seniors Completing the FAFSA: Studies have shown financial aid can boost postsecondary enrollment and completion. $1000 was shown to boost probability of college attendance by 3.6% and completed schooling by 1/10 a year (18).

  • Improve enrollment of dual credit courses, especially for low and minority students: WSAC research has shown how dual credit participation has increased postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion rates. For example, 76% of running start (RS) students enrolled in a postsecondary college compared to 55% of those not in RS. 3,111 students graduating with an associates in 2017 through running started saved up to $39M in tuition (19).  Washington State Institute for Public Policy has found that high quality dual enrollment can lead to over $18,000 in net benefit to society per participant (15). Risks to financial aid eligibility such as below 2.0 GPA and obtaining too many credits that do not transfer to a credential must also be considered in supporting students (20).

  • Support students that do not wish to go to college with other post-secondary opportunities such as trades: The average salary of a trade school graduate in Washington state is $71k, which is ~$26,300 than the median income 16 years after graduation between those with just a HS diploma (21).

We Want to Hear from You (Submit Feedback Here)

  • Overall, on a scale of 1-5 (1 being not a priority, 5 being this is a top priority), how exciting is addressing this issue to you? Are there other exciting, promising solutions that you have seen that we should be thinking about when addressing Undermatched Pathways for Washington students?

  • What are your questions or concerns on our existing research on this topics? What risks do you foresee on public adoptions? 

  • On a scale of 1-5 (1 being not convincing-5 being I’m convinced), how convincing/developed are the problems/solutions presented? What are other areas of research you think would be helpful in strengthening our argument?


  1. Georgetown University Projections of Jobs, Education, and Training Requirements through 2031

  2. Washington Roundtable Path to 70% Credential Attainment

  3. Washington High School Graduate Outcomes Dashboard

  4. Washington Roundtable Path to 70 Update Summer 2023

  5. Washington Student Achievement Council on Equity Gaps

  6. Bottom Line Analysis on Postsecondary Support

  7. Journal of Higher Education on Postsecondary Attainment

  8. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Report Card

  9. The Math Agency Information on Importance of Math Education

  10. National College Attainment Network FAFSA Tracker

  11. Massachusetts Alliance for Early College Report

  12. Washington Dual Credit Dashboard

  13. OPSI list of trade school centers

  14. Wake Forest University on Technology Support for School Counselors

  15. Washington State Institute for Public Policy Benefit-Cost Results 

  16. Bottom Line Success Program Report

  17. Chehalis College Bound Scholarship Program

  18. Measuring the Effects of Student Aid on College Attendance and Completion

  19. Washington Student Achievement Council on dual credit and educational attainment

  20. Edmonds College FAQ on College in High School

  21. Trade School Salaries in Washington State

Paid for by Reid Saaris for Superintendent
PO Box 9100
Seattle, WA 98109