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Initiative Urges Students to Identify Career Goals Early

three people climbing career ladder

At the same time that the Coalition for Career Development (CCD) is promoting a greater emphasis on early career planning in K-12 and higher education, Complete College America has begun pushing a "Purpose First" philosophy for colleges and universities, a strategy intended to serve as the "missing link" among career choice, guided pathways and first-year momentum.

Last year, the organization published a report in partnership with several other associations that outlined a shared vision for adding early career exploration and academic planning into the college student onboarding process. Recently, it amplified that effort with a new report and resources that lay out what's needed to help students explore their interests and possible careers — as well as hit early benchmarks toward on-time graduation along their chosen pathways.

"Purpose First," as the latest initiative is called, describes a redesigned institutional structure that encourages students to identify their interests early on, learn about possible careers and get informed about labor market data and other relevant information to help them in their decision-making. The report covers five specific areas:

  • Institutional culture that "values academic success and career outcomes";
  • Recruiting, admissions and onboarding, which help students begin preparing for their future careers "from the moment" a relationship begins with them;
  • Career exploration in "numerous and diverse" ways;
  • Academic structures, to help students build "critical early momentum" and weave career-aligned coursework and learning through the traditional academic experience; and
  • The first year and beyond, or helping students make "important early decisions" regarding their "academic purpose" and their career goals.

The report included a number of case studies to demonstrate the efficacy of a purpose-first approach. For example, Houston Community College launched a new "choose your path" onboarding system in January 2018, which allows students to do all of their onboarding online (with the exception of placement testing). The system also provides information on areas of study, career options and labor market data and prompts users to go through a career assessment. While the ultimate outcomes (graduation rates) haven't been reported yet, the college saw six times as many students complete career assessments in the first semester of the system's use as compared to the entire previous academic year.

College-bound students, the report noted, "are too often presented with an overwhelming number of major options with little guidance in making the best decision. Uninformed decisions about a course of study can lead students to 'spin their wheels,' causing them to accumulate excess credits, extend their time to degree or drop out altogether." Among those who do achieve their degrees, "the additional time results in increased costs and makes it difficult for graduates to build a solid financial foundation early on." And those individuals in underrepresented or less advantaged groups are "disproportionately affected by these challenges, diminishing critical efforts to close achievement gaps."

However, the report pointed out, where students are more informed about relevant career options and follow guided pathways, they're "better positioned to choose a program of study and start earning credits towards their degree."

Purpose First resources, including an executive summary and the full 44-page report, are available on the Complete College website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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