The latest report from Edweek.org on high school graduation rates in the United States triggered my memory of an innovative college career center program that I worked on, over a decade ago. It was my first job in higher education and I was working as a Program Assistant in the employer relations department of a career center on an Employer Partner Program.
That Employer Partner Program was one of the distinguishing features of that career center in the California State University system. At the time, it was an innovative and cutting edge way to have employers pledge support to the center at multiple funding levels. Employers were committed to helping our career center develop the professional workforce that industry was demanding in a highly competitive California economy.
While working on that project, I learned an awful lot about how career centers could become the incubators that fostered meaningful relationships between colleges, companies and community entities.
One of the projects that resulted from these collaborations, was a career program sponsored by Target Corporation, involving career counselors working with students at a nearby high school. The idea was to engage high school students with the university community through discussion, workshops and career sessions related to the long term career success of the students. Target Corporation employees participated through professional development workshops, hosting behind the scene tours of Target facilities where high school and college students learned about company operations and the career opportunities for college graduates. The program was called TUFIN -Targeting Under-Represented Families in Need. In fact you can find an article about the TUFIN program here.
Once I read the Edweek article, I started to think about other innovative career center programs I had developed over the years to bring stakeholders together. With 8 of the southern states with Historically Black Colleges and Universities having high school graduation rates of below 80%, I started to think about what collaborative models could engage HBCUs with the stakeholders involved. The states and their related high school graduation rates are: Alabama 75%, Arkansas 78%, Florida 75%, Georgia 70%, Louisiana 72%, Mississippi 68%, North Carolina 79% and South Carolina 72%.
Why would HBCU’s want to be involved in such a collaboration?
The HBCU’s in these states have a vested interest in increasing high school graduation rates to maintain or broaden the prospective student pipeline into their colleges and universities. Any model would have opportunities for HBCU students, often themselves first generation students, to engage with the broader community of students as peer mentors. Collaborations that would engage companies, communities and colleges could generate synergies that give all parties visibility, positive public relations and connections that lead to other results. For example, it is not unusual for college students who work closely with professionals from local companies to benefit from internship and future employment opportunities as well as coaching and career development skills. Companies that see college career centers innovating with community programs often consider these colleges as targets for recruiting diverse grads.
Here are just a few specific examples of how HBCU career centers in these states could lead these kinds of initiatives on their campuses:
-Engage distributed or alumni and partner them with specific high school students or high school student groups in these states. Career centers could develop a directory of HBCU alumni willing to mentor at risk students in these high schools or who are willing to advise high school student groups or even set up tours of their companies.
-Career center staff can conduct career development workshops in high schools as a way to engage at-risk students about life after high school and college. In the TUFIN program, for example, I administered the Strong Interest Inventory career assessment tool and conducted workshops for the high school students on the meaning of the results.
-Career center staff could work with HBCU faculty to develop career camp opportunities on college campuses. Imagine, for example, if HBCU’s could engage high school students through a STEM careers camp on the HBCU campus?
-Arranging community service events on the college campus that would bring together HBCU students and high school students through teams working on projects sponsored by companies.
With a little creativity, there is no end to the options.
I am positive that with discussion among relevant constituents, every HBCU campus in these southern states could develop one new program that would support high school students while strengthening a pipeline of future high school graduates. Imagine adding corporate scholarship support for students who successfully participate in these programs? Innovative companies also understand the value of developing a highly skilled talent pool and would have high interest in collaborating with HBCU’s this way.
The fact is that many colleges and universities are going outside of their usual recruitment territories to attract diverse college students from southern schools.
Why shouldn’t HBCU’s take advantage of the opportunities right in their own states?