The words "career path" and icons of various options

Massive initiative targets college to career transition

A $2.4M grant will help identify promising pathways to help students move from college to career and the workforce

A business major working full-time who worries about balancing financial needs with pursuing a job change after graduation. A student preparing for a “practical” path to dental school to provide for his low-income family, but whose passion is music. A first-generation college student who isn’t quite convinced she’ll wind up loving her career field.

These students are representative of college students across the nation who are struggling to make their way through higher ed and who don’t necessarily feel prepared for the “real world.” But connecting college to career could help drastically with the transition.

Read more: Fewer than half of college students are ready for the workforce

A major three-year project from the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), funded with a $2.4 million grand from the Strada Education Network, intends to “develop and test new strategies for supporting students as they prepare to work,” writes Dr. Anna Drake Warshaw, UIA’s director of partnerships, learning, and evaluation.

The Bridging the Gap from Education to Employment (BGEE) project uses mapping and design thinking to understand what happens as students transition from college to career, and to learn how we can do better as we try to help them, Warshaw writes.

“Effectively serving today’s students means being clear-eyed about the barriers that institutions–sometimes unknowingly–may be creating for students,” says Oregon State University President Ed Ray, a UIA member. “This is about rethinking the way we help students prepare for and land the right first job after graduation. It reflects a belief that translating education into economic opportunity is absolutely central to our mission.”

“Career services are a natural evolution of focus for the student success movement. If we abandon low-income or first-generation students at graduation with a poorly designed handoff between college-to-career, we risk failing to deliver on the full promise of higher education,” says Dr. Bridget Burns, UIA’s executive director. “This project is about providing career services professionals with the capacity and time to redesign career readiness in order to better prepare students for an increasingly dynamic future of work.”

BGEE is built on an intensive analysis of students’ experiences with current career-related activities on seven UIA campuses: Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, the University of California-Riverside, and the University of Central Florida.

Read more: Using workforce data to improve student outcomes

By mapping processes and systems on each campus, special teams led by career services professionals will identify where students are encountering roadblocks on the bridge from college to career.

University leaders have committed to sharing common challenges and successful strategies to help students make a stronger transition from college to the world of work.

Recent research suggests that a graduate’s first job can have profound, long-term economic implications. According to a report from Strada Institute for the Future of Work, 43 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed in their first job out of college. Of those, more than half remain so after ten years. By contrast, just one in ten graduates who land a first job appropriate to their skill level slip into underemployment after five years.

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Laura Ascione

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