Bridging Career with College Success – Reflections from the National College Access Network’s Spring Training
By Caitlin Fritz
The National College Access Network (NCAN) with support from the Strada Education Network, hosted a series of regional trainings on connecting college success programming with strategies to prepare students for meaningful careers. I recently took the train to Providence to attend the training held at Rhode Island College. The big takeaway from the daylong event – college and career readiness doesn’t have to live in two separate buckets of work but instead can happen in tandem. The day was full of examples from around the country of initiatives that are blending traditionally siloed work of education, workforce, and economic development.
Another overarching theme centered on the question of what does career success even mean? College success seems pretty straightforward, a college degree, but career success is more nuanced. The speakers reiterated throughout the day that career success is more than “did the student get a job?” but asking “is it meaningful?” or “is it career relevant?” A critical piece to this is developing the student’s own sense of agency. This is done by empowering the student with early exposure to career exploration, the data to examine the return on investment for education in particular career pathways, and education that is personalized and student centered.
The following are a few of the college and career initiatives that were highlighted at the training:
Partnership Development in Support of College and Career Success at the State-Level
The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), is driving collaboration between the education and workforce sectors through the development of new initiatives to facilitate college and career success. With funding from JPMorgan Chase in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers, RIDE is developing plans to enhance its career preparatory systems through the New Skills for Youth Initiative. The initiative aims to develop employer led partnerships that are systemic, broad-based, and authentic. This involves building trust with industry and employers, removing roadblocks in the secondary to post-secondary to career pathways, and a focus on investments in high demand career fields.
Another initiative spearheaded by RIDE is the Advanced Coursework Network. Rhode Island is a state with many small high schools in terms of enrollment (500 – 800 students). Many of these schools do not have the capacity to offer the full range of coursework that allows students to pursue learning that is meaningful and relevant to the students’ particular academic and career goals. As a state with a large number of higher education institutions relative to its size, many Rhode Island school districts and individual schools developed partnerships with colleges and universities such as Brown or the University of Rhode Island, in order to be able to offer Advanced Placement and rigorous coursework. This, however, created a landscape with only some schools having access to these courses. To build a more equitable system, RIDE developed the Advanced Coursework Network, which allows students at middle and high schools to enroll in courses offered by a variety of educational institutions, including Community-Based Organizations, higher eds, and approved Department of Labor and Training course providers.
Texas Launches Online Platform that Empowers Students and Advisors with Data on College and Career Pathways
Dr. Mark Schneider, President of College Measures (part of the American Institutes for Research) presented on his work in Texas with Launch My Career. This online platform helps to get data on employment outcomes into the hands of students and families. Using statistics from the American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students and families can examine employment projections, a summary of the skills required in high demand industries, differences in wages for different fields, and a listing of programs that provide the training for these in-demand skills. Students can also reflect on their personal goals by taking a lifestyle questionnaire. Launch My Career can estimate how much money you need for your lifestyle goals and how long on average it will take for you to get to your goal based on your career interests. In addition, Launch My Career also looks at job satisfaction data, and helps students think through if a particular career path is an ideal fit, not only for economic growth, but for personal growth as well.
During Dr. Schneider’s presentation one point in particular stood out. He noted a majority of students in community colleges in Texas pursue associate degrees in preparation for study at a four-year college, but studies show that only a small percentage of students who start out at community college go on to actually obtain a bachelor’s degree. According to The Hechinger Report, “only 14 percent of all students who entered a community college in 2007 transferred and then earned a four-year degree within six years.” Leaving community college with a degree focused on transferring instead of a career focused-degree can have real implications. Dr. Schneider’s data showed an $8,000 difference between the average annual wages for those with field based associate degrees as opposed to academic associate degrees. These statistics draw more attention to the question of ‘what does college and career success really mean?’
Enhancing the Career Connection in Your College Access and Success Work
The Opportunity Network, based in New York City, and Bottom Line, based in Boston, co-presented on how college access and success practitioners can build on their existing programing to also address skill building for career readiness. A simple example is the college campus tour. In addition to the traditional scavenger hunt, dorm visit, or student panel, have your students meet and talk with the myriad of other professionals responsible for the operations of a college or university. Universities have accountants, marketing departments, legal counsel, campus police, and more. In many ways college campuses are their own mini-cities, full of the various personnel needed to function like one. This presents the perfect opportunity to marry college and career conversations.
Lastly, networking is an important competency discussed at the training that applies to both college and career readiness. The presenters emphasized the importance of developing this foundation in the 9th grade or even earlier. Students can begin with mapping their own existing assets by creating a visual representation of their network that they can add to over time. As students build fluency in the ability to grow and maintain a network, they not only develop professional contacts, but also the ability to form communities on campus and utilize university resources, all of which increase their chances of college-degree attainment.
Ultimately our collective goal is for our students to have meaningful lives, which means treating college and career readiness equally with the same amount of rigor and attention. Using data, creative thinking, and building partnerships, we can work to create long-term success for our students.
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