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Charting an Efficient Course Through College Requires The Right Supports

April 16th, 2019

By Dr. Richard Daniel

High school students across Arizona are in the process of deciding where they will attend college in the fall. Many will enroll in community colleges to pursue a certificate or an associate degree. Others will enroll at one of the state’s public universities with the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree. Still others will enroll in technical colleges, online, or for-profit institutions. Regardless of where they end up enrolling, it is vital that Arizona’s students do so with a purpose, equipped with the information they need to make good decisions and take full advantage of the unique opportunity for advancement that the right college credential represents.

One of the major challenges that students face when they make the transition from high school to college is that they often do not have a clear sense of what they hope to accomplish in college and how they will do so. High school graduates bound for college are confronted with a dizzying number of program options, majors, and concentrations. It can be difficult for them to know what the best choices are with respect to their learning needs and career aspirations, especially in the absence of consistent guidance.

As a result, students without a focused understanding of the courses they need to take, or what major they should select to align with their post-college goals, drift in the sea of choices. The multitude of options can become a burden as students accumulate courses and credits they don’t need accruing additional expenses and ­extending the time it takes them to complete their program of study. Many students end up in majors that do not match their interests or aspirations. In a recent poll by Gallup-Strada, 36 percent of college graduates surveyed indicated that they would choose a different major given the opportunity to do so. In the worst-case scenarios, students can end up dropping out after taking multiple courses without making meaningful progress toward completion, thereby incurring huge expense for little to no pay-off.

Low-income students, students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and first-generation college-goers are disproportionately likely to experience difficulty charting an efficient and purposeful route through college. Not only does this endanger individual students’ prospects of graduating well-positioned, academically and financially, for future success, it also impedes efforts to close achievement and attainment gaps more broadly.

All of this points to the fact that high schools and college alike need to provide more support and guidance to help students more quickly identify their interests, learn about careers they might pursue (and the future of those careers in a the context of a changing labor market), and understand the programs of study that can get them where they want to go.

Already there are organizations and programs that exemplify how such supports can help students thrive. Complete College America’s Purpose First strategy, for example, prioritizes helping students build early momentum in college. The strategy focuses on career interest identification resources and college major guidance, beginning during the admissions process; providing additional academic and career advising as part of the student onboarding experience; and ongoing advising and career exploration opportunities during a student’s first college year.

Here at College Success Arizona, the students we work with receive personalized advising and guidance—beginning with new scholar orientation that helps them understand the career, academic, and life milestones that they will need to reach. Our success services enable students to make informed, confident decisions about their courses and major, track their progress, and build career knowledge and support networks so that they graduate ready for long-term success in the workforce and in life.

All students should have access to supports like these to help them determine their purpose, explore possibilities for future careers, and graduate on time having pursued an enriching and efficient course of study. After all, getting into college is a great thing, but completing college with a valuable credential that pays off well in the workforce is even better.

Dr. Richard Daniel is the Executive Vice President and COO of College Success Arizona where he directs the organization’s research and policy activities.

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