Connecting College & Career Success: Lessons on Advising, Data & Partnerships

June 15, 2017

By Sara Melnick, Deputy Director 

For a more detailed discussion of takeaways from Spring Training, see NCAN’s white paper, Connecting College and Career Success: Lessons on Advising, Data, and Partnerships.

It is clear that helping low-income, first-generation students access and complete postsecondary education is profoundly important – that’s the “bread and butter” of many NCAN members. What is now just coming into focus is the importance of helping students make the connection between postsecondary access and completion, and the career path to which that leads. NCAN has recently been engaged in work to help members explore the connection between college and career success. This work – generously supported by the Strada Education Network (formerly USA Funds) – represents a new direction for our field, and is a natural progression from the postsecondary access and success work in which our members have been engaged for many years.

As part of this work, NCAN hosted a series of Spring Training events during which attendees learned from field experts on topics from integrating career success work in a college access and success program, to accessing and using workforce data, to connecting with local, regional and state stakeholders to create partnerships for career success.

NCAN member Opportunity Network and College Measures’ Mark Schneider presented at all four Spring Training events. Attendees at each event also heard from local NCAN members who shared their work in connecting college and career success, as well as a local panel of stakeholders who discussed the importance of cross-sector collaboration to make this work successful.

Incorporating Career Success into Advising

  •  Career success programs can ease into offering career success activities; there may be existing work that can be adapted to include a career success component.
  • Programming is varied; many different approaches can lead to rewarding opportunities and successful outcomes for students. There is no one right way to do this work.

Opportunity Network led the discussion on how to incorporate career advising into a program, joined by a different NCAN member at each site: Be a Leader Foundation (BALF), Genesys WorksStarfish Initiative, or Bottom Line. Together they provided practical, replicable insight for attendees. Each program has a different approach to providing services, such as external mentoring, internships or program advising, underscoring the variety of ways to expand into career success work.

Identifying Relevant Career and Workforce Data

  •  There are data available that can and should inform students’ career pathways. Students, families, and other stakeholders should turn to data like workforce projections and wages when considering academic programs.
  • While data can provide important guidance for students and their families, advisors should keep in mind that the ultimate goal is finding students a professionally rewarding career path that is also personally satisfying.

Schneider explained how to find data that show projected workforce needs and connect labor outcomes with postsecondary academic programs and credentials. He focused on three main points:

  • making the case for the real economic value sub-baccalaureate degrees and credentials can offer in some communities;
  • examining the workforce data that programs can use to advise students about "hot jobs," "hot skills," and "high return on investment (ROI)" positions; and
  • providing students with workforce projections that predict the need (or lack thereof) for a given occupation.

Data resources that are helpful for providing career success services to students are continuing to emerge. This is especially true as stakeholders – and particularly the public sector – come to understand the value in collecting and disseminating this data for meeting future workforce needs. NCAN will continue to apprise members of resources available to help connect college and career success advising.

Creating Partnerships for Career Success

  •  Programs should not go it alone in providing career success services. Successful initiatives are often collaborations among business, government, K-12 school districts, community-based organizations, and postsecondary institutions.
  • Each of these stakeholders can play an important role, but the exact combination of partners will depend on local context.

In each Spring Training city, a morning panel focused on "Partnerships to Facilitate College and Career Success." Content in each city varied to reflect the on-the-ground partnerships that connect higher education, nonprofit, K-12, business, government, and philanthropic stakeholders to pull in the same direction.

Across the four local panels, presenters identified communication among stakeholders as critical at every stage. At the outset, assembling stakeholders in the same room can uncover key goals, ideas for approaches, and the resources and capacity each stakeholder can contribute. Sustained communication ensures processes and activities are running smoothly, and helps identify solutions to problems that arise. Finally, NCAN members and other stakeholders should not necessarily try to replicate any one partnership because this work is so context-dependent.

NCAN has curated resources on connecting college and career success. Our ultimate goal is to provide a broad spectrum of resources that members will find valuable, regardless of whether this is a new direction for their organization or they are already engaged in this work and want to find new approaches to improve their program’s practices and, ultimately, outcomes for students.

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