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Report: Community College Students Lack Information About Career Paths

Sizable portions of U.S. community college students are finding that their schools are not equipping them with the knowledge to succeed after they graduate, according to recent findings from University of Texas at Austin’s 2023 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCCSE).Dr. Linda GarcíaDr. Linda García

How Clear Is Their Path: Guided Career Pathways and Community College Students – drawing from Spring 2023 survey results from 83,189 community college students in 199 colleges – examined the extent to which respondents felt their schools gave them sufficient information about in-demand jobs in their local areas and the requisite skills for, and earnings of, their chosen careers.

Most surveyed students (more than 90%) reported that they had already chosen a career path. But only about half (49%) said that their schooling at college had given them information about the skills they’ll need for the job, according to the report. In contrast, 18% said they had gotten very little information about the topic or none at all.

Researchers found that students with 30 or more credit hours under their belt – meaning more courses taken, more schooling received – were more likely to answer that their college coursework had equipped them with that knowledge.

The difference is more pronounced for those who had participated in internships or similar experiences. Seventy-one percent of students who had taken part in such activities said their coursework informed them about requisite skills, compared to the 44% of students without these experiences.

When it comes to knowing how much money they can make in their chosen career paths, almost a fifth of surveyed students (46%) responded “very little” or “not at all” to whether their college had helped them learn about their planned path’s average earnings.

Among students who had more often taken advantage of their school’s career counseling services, the biggest portion (44%) reported having received significant help in learning about average earnings. On the flip side, those who had never used these services most often reported either getting some (30%) or no (29%) earnings information.

Some community colleges have made progress in terms of better displaying pathways from degrees to earnings, but there is more work to be done, said CCCSE Executive Director Dr. Linda García.

Community college students also reported that their college experiences have helped them learn about their local job markets to varying degrees. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said their experience had somewhat helped them get to know about which jobs were most in-demand in their area, while 32% said theirs had not helped or had helped very little.

Much like with learning about requisite work skills, those who engaged in internships were more likely to respond that their college experiences better informed them about in-demand jobs and that their schools helped them learn about average career earnings, demonstrating the merits of internships and similar opportunities for these students.

But taking the time to participate in internships isn’t feasible for all students, said Dr. Courtney Adkins, CCCSE’s associate director of publications. To make things more equitable for these students, she suggested that schools incorporate elements of the internship experience into their classes and advising services and teach students about the skills they’ll need.

“Internships aren't possible for all students. Some community college students are working two jobs, and they can't afford to attend an internship or to participate in something like that,” Adkins said. “So, I think there's an opportunity for colleges. … I know some colleges are doing that work.”

Many students are getting information about their planned career paths from counselors, advisers, and instructors. But a portion (29%) is also getting their information from friends and family, according to the report.

“Because of this, some students may be making decisions about their future careers based on incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated information,” the report read. “Friends and family may not be aware of all available career options that align with students’ interests. They also may not be considering transfer and additional educational options that can lead to career advancement and a higher salary.”

Not everyone at a community college needs to be aware of, and able to inform students about, every job opportunity. But it is everyone’s job – from full-time faculty and part-time faculty to staff – to be “connectors” who can refer students to the right people and support resources, García said. That way, information about these available resources is nigh “inescapable” for these students, in front of them at all times, she said.

“Usually students, when they come to the campus, they may be connected to just one person. It could be the instructor. It could be a staff person, from the groundskeeper maybe to the president,” García explained. “Everybody should know about this information because, if the student is asked: 'What are your goals? Are you thinking about staying in this community? Do you know about earnings?' and if they don't know, then anybody within the college can [tell them].”

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