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Ways Community Colleges Support Career Readiness

Colleges that develop strong networks with local employers are preparing students for success. In this article we look at what career readiness means, whether programs are preparing students for the workforce, and how to market career readiness as part of an enrollment strategy.

Among the many criticisms of higher education that have emerged over the past decade, one of the most damning is that many graduates feel their college has failed to prepare them for the workforce. The responses to this charge have been varied.

Some colleges argue that their purpose is to enrich their students’ worldview and train their critical thinking skills, and that these goals offer broad benefits that can’t be neatly tied to a single career. They’re not entirely wrong, as our article “Understanding the Value of Humanities Programs at Community Colleges” makes clear: soft skills are some of the most sought-after qualifications among employers, and humanities programs have a strong track record of preparing students for management positions.

Other colleges object to the charge outright, and argue that their programs do prepare graduates for the workforce, and in some cases this may also be true. But the experiences of students themselves, and of the employers who hire them, is that the gap between where students are and where they need to be is too broad, and that colleges can be doing more to narrow it.

Community colleges are both well-positioned to handle this challenge, and have an urgent need to do so. Their students tend to be from low-income demographics, and are disproportionately comprised of first-generation college students. That means that those who enroll in their programs have a greater economic need for those programs to pay off financially, are less likely to know some of the ins and outs of navigating the post-college labor market, and are more likely to benefit from career readiness programs. The following are six ways community colleges can help prepare students for the transition from classroom to career.

1. Develop an integrated program following the guided pathways model.

Since 2015, hundreds of community colleges nationwide have followed the guided pathways model to remove barriers that are keeping students from successfully completing their courses. Guided pathways replaces the more “cafeteria” style approach where students pick and choose courses with little guidance as to how they align with their career goals. Guided pathways also places a stronger emphasis on connecting students with faculty, employers, and alumni who might help guide them in preparing for their career once they graduate.

Read More: Guided Pathway Programs Need More Marketing Support

2. Work with local employers to develop training curricula and create opportunities for on-the-job experience.

Internships are one of the most sought-after career-readiness opportunities among students, yet many fail to find a placement while in school. In some cases, this is because there aren’t enough internships available, but just as often it’s the case that students don’t have the time or knowledge to search for and apply to programs.

The good news is that many employers struggle to find qualified job candidates, and would benefit from the chance to work more closely with a community college and advise on which skills are in short supply among applicants. They may even be willing to speak directly to classes and work with the school to develop an internship placement program that wouldn’t conflict with student schedules.

3. Integrate career readiness with the classroom to improve equitable access.

Most colleges centralize student support in the career center, which typically helps guide students through career exploration, choosing a major, and recruitment events. However, nearly a third of students never access their student center at all—if they’re even aware it exists. Incorporating career readiness information in the classroom can raise awareness and make resources accessible to students who may never have sought it out on their own.

4. Match career center services to student demand.

On top of improving access to the career center, colleges should also make sure the services offered align with what the students themselves need. According to a report by Inside Higher Ed, the top four resources accessed by students include career exploration (41%), choosing a major (41%), recruitment events (40%), and developing a résumé (39%).

However, the top services that students want colleges to create or invest more in include developing a résumé (69%), career exploration (67%), getting an internship (62%), and a rather lengthy list of specific job preparation services including mock interviews, professional headshots, choosing an appropriate interview outfit, and guidance on workplace norms. The specificity of these requests—and the gap between students who want them and students who actually receive that help in their career center—indicates that colleges have a strong roadmap before them if they want to improve their services.

5. Offer career readiness as a for-credit part of the educational program.

The list of students’ career support requests offers another clue as to how community colleges could bolster the career readiness of their programs: offering a for-credit course as part of their program. This would have exceptional benefits for first-generation college students and for immigrant students, both of which are groups in need of cultural support to navigate the professional world once they graduate.

6. Devote marketing efforts to increasing awareness of career readiness programs.

Finally, once you have created a fully developed career readiness program, it’s time to market that program to the students who most need to hear about it. Informational marketing resources can help further your career readiness goals in several ways:

  • Marketing to prospective students can highlight your career support and raise enrollment among students who might otherwise doubt the ability of your program to help them find a job.
  • Professors can keep print resources on hand in class and pass them out to students who have questions about careers.
  • The resources themselves can educate students by answering top questions and serving as a guide that students can keep on hand when looking for career opportunities.

Aperture Content Marketing can be the marketing support you need.

Many community colleges are implementing programs similar to the ones described above, but struggle to market them due to the limitations of their team and a lack of resources needed to fully move these initiatives forward. At Aperture Content Marketing, we offer the support your marketing department needs to get its message to your students.

We provide community colleges with a full library of researched articles on various career programs that your team can edit to match your programs and your local job market, and our multichannel marketing platform helps community colleges distribute that information across social media, on a customizable microsite, and through direct mail. Contact us today to learn more about how we can place critical career readiness information in the hands of your prospective students.