5 Steps for Building & Strengthening Students’ Networks

Getting Started: How Every Student Benefits from a Strong & Diverse Network

Graphic getting started

Go Deeper

Read The Missing Metrics report to learn how early innovators nationwide are measuring the growth of their students’ networks.

Download the paper

All students already possess social capital. They arrive at school with networks, and in the course of learning and serving students, schools and institutions contribute to those networks. However, slim but troubling data suggests that students’ access to relationships is not equally distributed and that not all relationships are supporting development and opportunity at an equal rate. A wide range of factors including race, family income, and parental education level can impact the size and scope of students’ networks, and the resources those networks can offer. Moreover, within K–12 and postsecondary pathways, students report unequal or limited access to developmental relationships, mentors, and professional connections. This can, in turn, impact students’ access to opportunity and economic mobility. For example, while 86% of adults in K–12 schools report that they are building strong developmental relationships with young people, only 45% of young people report experiencing strong developmental relationships. This data suggests that there is a stark discrepancy in how young people are actually experiencing relationships compared to how adults think or hope they are experiencing relationships. Among postsecondary alumni, fewer than half of students report having had a mentor in college, and students of color are 34% less likely to cite having a professor as a mentor compared to their white peers. Schools and institutions hoping to reverse trends like these have an opportunity in front of them: to invest in and measure students’ networks in more deliberate, equitable, and effective ways.

Note: Open the PDF to see a complete list of research citations.

Ensuring all students are growing and strengthening their networks

Opportunity gaps reflect resource and relationship gaps. But simply putting relationships within reach isn’t always enough to activate the benefits of social capital. In fact, a negative relationship can be worse than no relationship at all. Young people who experience negative or curtailed mentoring relationships show marked decreases in their sense of self-worth and academic ability. By taking a purposeful approach to measurement, schools and institutions can ensure all students feel supported and engaged on their education journey and graduate with both the skills and networks that drive success. Schools and institutions that are starting to prioritize students’ social capital rarely use a single metric to gauge how students access and experience relationships. Instead, these K–12 and postsecondary programs are capturing data across four interrelated dimensions:

A four-dimensional framework for measuring students’ social capital

Meaningful metrics to center equity in your design

Systems change will depend on educators and administrators sharing power and knowledge with both students and their networks. This will require schools and institutions to capture data that reflects the diversity of students served, and to equip students as agents of change in their own educational and professional pathways. As you navigate each design step, this playbook offers “meaningful metrics” your organization can use and adapt to ensure all students receive support and resources in the way they need.

Download our guided worksheet to keep track of your progress while going through the playbook.

Customize a plan