Students are pursuing higher education with career outcomes in mind, and many begin college with the goal of landing a job by graduation.
But few first-year students have a clear idea of which major they want to study or the career they want to pursue after graduation.
Colleges and universities can help students develop a strong sense of purpose if they offer students opportunities to explore their academic and career interests early on, according to a report from Complete College America (CCA).
“The cost of not supporting students in their quests to find purpose and relevance in their major and career choices is too great,” the report reads. Rudderless students may accumulate extra credits or bounce between majors, which lengthen their time to degree and tack on extra costs.
“Research has reaffirmed that when students pursue their college goals more purposefully and with confidence that their majors match their academic and personal strengths, they have higher retention and graduation rates,” says Donald Straney, vice president for academic planning and policy at the University of Hawai’i System.
If colleges aren’t providing career support within the first year, they’re doing a disservice to students—especially low-income, first-generation, or other underrepresented students, says Dhanfu Elston, vice president of strategy for guided pathways and purpose first at CCA.
In the report, CCA highlights how several colleges help first-year students make informed academic decisions by incorporating career exploration early on.
Florida College System
The Florida College System is finding innovative ways to implement eight meta majors and share information on careers that align to those academic programs.
For example, Hillsborough Community College has reorganized its academic divisions to align with broad areas of study. And St. Petersburg College has created communities for students in the same meta major to explore program offerings and engage with peers who have similar academic interests.
Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
IUPUI’s cluster advising model supports first-year students with academic and career resources aligned to their major. Under the model, IUPUI groups first-year students with similar majors into small groups. Each group is assigned student success advisors who have specialized knowledge about the academic programs and related careers. These advisors work closely with career consultants to help students choose a major and career that interests them.
Houston Community College (HCC)
HCC uses an online registration system to streamline students’ onboarding process. With the online system, called Career Coach, students no longer need to visit the campus repeatedly to complete their enrollment.
During the first semester, students take a success course with an experiential learning component to explore their career interests. To win buy-in for the program, HCC assembled a team that included faculty, advisors, and staff from IT, data, and registration. To design the changes, they reviewed placement, persistence, and success data, and asked students about their experiences (CCA report, accessed 10/18; Pennamon, Diverse Education, 10/15).