It Takes a Campus to Build a Successful Career!

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Virtual village of volunteer career support increases retention, graduation rate, and payback of college loans!

Some people say, Hillary Clinton’s 1994 book, It Takes a Village, got its name from an African proverb; “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Hillary reminds us that while parents are THE most important influence on raising a child, the village around that child is also responsible for imbuing ethics, leadership, citizenship and a moral standard to support the community.

Today, I wanted to explore how important it is for college students to have a “village” of support to help guide, mentor and advise them on how they can translate all they are learning into strategies to build successful careers.

In reading a New York Times article by Jason DeParle, called For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall, I realized how incredibly important a support group is to a college student.  Jason shares the realities low income, high achieving students face when trying to develop enough velocity to escape the issues, relationships and economics that define who they are the minute they leave home for college.

He follows three Galveston Texas girls who shared a desire to “get off the island” and make something of themselves.   As the story unfolds, the realities of having to work part time to pay for college, the pull of boyfriends “on the island” with fewer ambitions, and depression caused by the sheer force required to break away from a life that, like gravity continues to ground their dreams and aspirations of finishing college are constant influences.

And this story does not have a happy ending.

Not only do the girls commit years to attempt to get college degrees, but in the case of Angelica Gonzales, end up working for $9.50 per hour after spending over $200,000 on an education!  The horribly sad part of this story is that there are millions of students from wealthy, middle class, and struggling class families who are living similar stories.  Each want their part of the American dream that starts with a college degree which should qualify them for the next level of opportunities to join generations before them that enjoyed gaining access to a middle class life complete with healthcare, cars, homes and occasional vacations, while at the same time saving for retirement.

The article discussed a series of missed opportunities in helping the girls graduate.  Some were caused by cultural issues, others by the stress they were under, and yet others were caused by the lack of having a support group to help them through the issues.

The colleges the girls chose had counselors, but these counselors did not have the bandwidth to keep following up with the girls, coach them, give them pep talks and steer them in the right directions when the undertow from their realities increased.

When you think about it, it’s shocking that our “village” condones a system that gives students like Angelica Gonzales a glimpse at a dream that will change their lives, but after decades of seeing the system is broken, does not offer the support, guidance, and help needed to keep the dream alive.

The system we have in place today results in nearly 60% of students entering college who end up with college debt, no degree and in a worse situation then they were in before they entered college.

Doesn’t higher education, AND the community have a responsibility to right this situation?

So that got me thinking…

What kind of support group would any student, but even more importantly, a low-income student need?  I started jotting down a list of possible “village” positions that could be marshalled to help students and their parents who are investing the cost of an average home to earn a degree.

Imagine if every incoming freshman had a support group consisting of:

1) Career counselors 

Colleges already have a team of career counselors that are stretched in serving the population base their administration assigns them.   With the average career counselor responsible for over 1,600 students, it’s nearly impossible to provide strategic advice.  In my perfect world, colleges would reduce that number to 400 and students would be required to visit either in person or by phone with their career counselors.

2) Career coaches

The neat thing about us humans is that we are all different.  Each of us has strengths, skills, capacity for knowledge, and passions.   While a college career counselor in the career center might be adequate for some students, a full time/dedicated career coach may be needed for others.  Career coaches can work on a monthly basis to keep students focused on a methodology and career plan designed to help them build a successful career strategy.

3) Alumni mentors

One of the most underutilized areas that all colleges could be drawing on is alumni.   With 50 to 100 plus years of graduates, every college has a collection of willing alumni who under the right circumstances would be willing to provide guidance and help to students and grads.

4) Community mentors

Every day 10,000 boomers with skills, knowledge, experience, contacts and expertise in a variety of areas are retiring.   This group has time and resources, with many looking for a way to give back, provide some relevance to their new found free time, and help others.

5) Company/Organization mentors

Businesses and organizations have an opportunity –and more today than ever– have a desire to engage with students early on in their college experience so they have an opportunity to help guide and help students understand what they will need to do to successfully migrate from college to the corporate life.

6) Parents

It also got me thinking about what role parents could/should play in this process as well as what kind of support, knowledge and training THEY need to do their part in helping their sons or daughters stay focused on the end game, graduation and a job!

One solution that TalentMarks has been introducing is a CareerParent online community that delivers career videos, webinars, discussions and resources that help parents understand why their sons or daughters need to take ownership of their careers from the time they come to campus.

But we already have these!

I know you are going to say you already have some or all of these opportunities… but at what scale? And does your college REALLY focus on them? In order to decrease the dropout rate, and help more students graduate on time, we are going to have to put more resources into a support structure and make it a part of the college culture!

What if you could assign to every incoming freshman a “virtual volunteer career support village”?   What if you could use technology to track the students’ progress as well as keep the team working together to help, nudge, nurture, advise and guide the student through the steps they will need to take in order to graduate with a job?

Could this support group help increase the retention rate– the number of grads that not only graduate– but graduate with jobs?

I think so!

What do you think?





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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

One thought on “It Takes a Campus to Build a Successful Career!

  1. Please include faculty and university administration in this list. Without it being a priority at the upper levels, all these other areas are useless.

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