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Access to opportunity depends on more than just education--social connections play a role, meaning students' social capital can't be overlooked

Are you measuring students’ social capital? You should be


Access to opportunity depends on more than just education--social connections play a role, meaning students' social capital can't be overlooked

It’s common knowledge that students have to have access to the right resources sand opportunities to follow their interests and excel in school and beyond–and key among those resources, although often-overlooked, is students’ social capital.

A new report from the Christensen Institute delves in to these complex–but increasingly important–issues surrounding students’ relationships.

Part of this importance lies in closing opportunity gaps. In fact, “building students’ social capital is an equity imperative for any system committed to closing opportunity gaps,” according to the report.

Related content: 5 on-ramps to building students’ social capital

In The Missing Metrics: Emerging practices for measuring students’ relationships and networks, authors Mahnaz Charania, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute, and Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Christensen Institute, describe students’ social capital as their “access to, and ability to mobilize, relationships that help them further their potential and their goals”–and students’ social capital is important because relationships give students access to resources and opportunity.

“Most schools and programs wholeheartedly agree that relationships matter. But far fewer actually measure students’ social capital,” according to the report. “Oftentimes, relationships, valuable as they may be, are treated as inputs to learning and development rather than outcomes in their own right. In turn, schools routinely leave students’ access to relationships and networks to chance.”

In particular, measuring students’ social capital and relationships in four specific areas is important:
1. Quantity of relationships measures who is in a student’s network over time. The more relationships students have at their disposal, the better their chances of finding the support they need and the opportunities they deserve.

2. Quality of relationships measures how students experience the relationships they are in and the extent to which those relationships are meeting their relational, developmental, and instrumental needs. Different relationships offer different value as students’ needs evolve.

3. Structure of networks gauges the variety of people a student knows and how those people are themselves connected. Different people with varied backgrounds, expertise, and insights can provide students with a wide range of options for discovering opportunities, exploring interests, and accessing career options.

4. Ability to mobilize relationships assesses a student’s ability to seek out help when needed and to activate different relationships. Connecting a student to relationships isn’t enough. Young people must be able to nurture relationships and recognize how and when to leverage relationships as resources in their life journey.

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Laura Ascione

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