How Career Exploration Improves Graduation Rates

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If you work in education, chances are, you’re concerned about graduation rates. After all, this is one of the most important metrics by which to measure the merits of your institution. One of your primary goals is likely to get students successfully through your programs so they can leave, diploma in hand, ready to conquer the world. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. The following article will explore how career exploration improves graduation rates.  

On a national level, the Washington Post reports that “84 percent of [high school] students [graduated] on time in 2016,” based on data from the Department of Education. While this is a definite improvement over previous years, it still leaves much room for improvement – why aren’t 16 percent of American youth able to graduate? The figures for college completion are significantly more dire: the National Center for Education Statistics notes that “the 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students…was 59 percent” in 2015, meaning that only 59 percent of undergraduate students “completed a bachelor’s degree by 2015 at the same institution where they started in 2009.” Over one-third of college students are beginning their higher education, but not finishing it. This likely leaves them with debt, but no credentials, and probably a very unclear career direction.

Graduation rates are obviously a vital issue for students, educators, academic officers, advisers, and career counselors at all levels. After all, what could be more important than helping students earn their degrees and achieve their goals? Everyone is looking for innovative ways to improve these numbers, but many don’t realize that career exploration could be key. Read on to learn how career exploration improves graduation rates.

A Crucial Disconnect

The first step to solving a problem is to understand what causes it. Many academic advisors struggling to get students across the finish line may find themselves wondering, just what is it that makes graduating so grueling? While of course there are many factors unique to each student’s circumstance, the essence of this issue comes down to that one, exasperated question you’ve probably heard time and time again from students: “why do these classes even matter?”

Many students see a fundamental disconnect between their academics and their aspirations. Some even feel that their studies are an unproductive hurdle they have to jump just to get to the working world. Of course, this is far from the truth, since the purpose of high school and college education is to help prepare students for the types of challenges they’ll face in their future occupations. However, the reality is that many feel that their degree programs and their professional ambitions have nothing to do with each other.

Operating from this (flawed) mindset, “students in American higher education wander aimlessly, picking from a smorgasbord of courses and degree requirements rather than choosing a clearly-articulated full program of study,” according to Complete College America, a non-profit committed to improving graduation rates. With scattered classes and a lack of true direction, it makes sense that a portion of students might feel their degrees aren’t worth completing or won’t yield their desired results.

Some Students Have it Harder

Statistics show that students from certain backgrounds have a much more difficult time making it to graduation. As Forbes points out, “only 9% of students from low-income families earn a bachelor’s degree – an increase of just 3% points since 1970. During that same time period, completion rates for affluent students skyrocketed, from 40% to 77%. Sadly, the college completion gap is widening.” These students face additional economic pressures while in school and, with parents who most likely haven’t been to college, they might have an even harder time understanding their path through school to the careers they want. That’s why it’s especially important to focus on improving graduation rates for these students.

How Career Exploration Improves Graduation Rates

As Complete College America explains, a “purpose first” approach is critical: “provide students opportunities to evaluate their interests and explore career options, using labor-market data to reveal trends and possibilities.” Career exploration improves graduation rates by providing the missing link between students’ courses and their careers. Having made the connection between the courses they’re taking or plan to take and the occupations they hope to hold, students are much more driven to complete their degrees.

As Education Drive recently reported, “students who have identified a career path for themselves [feel] twice as prepared for their futures as those who are unsure of their path,” allowing them to not only make better decisions regarding their college curriculum but motivating them to actually complete their courses.

Furthermore, a study published in the journal Phi Delta Kappan found “evidence that [career exploration programs] can be a useful strategy for keeping students in high school and preparing them for further study or training.” Even students who would otherwise be less inclined to graduate can be kept on track with the confidence and knowledge career exploration fosters. As the researchers concluded, “schools need to be able to engage, inspire, and advance students with every kind of interest and ability…career exploration programs are one way to accomplish just that.”

In addition, just as poor graduation rates disproportionately affect low-income students, career exploration tools can be particularly helpful for these pupils. They can discover professions they’d never even dreamed of, motivating them to complete the courses needed to reach their newfound goals.

Let The Numbers Speak For Themselves

At Innovation Labs (a division of CPP – The Myers-Briggs® Company), we know career exploration tools work because we’ve seen it firsthand from years of being in the education and assessment industries. We share innovative career exploration instruments, such as the VitaNavis® platform, with schools every day. Based on independent studies conducted by the schools we partner with that have used the VitaNavis solution:

  • 90 percent of students agreed that “this was a valuable experience.”
  • 85 percent of students agreed that they were “aware of more major options.”
  • 89 percent of students agreed that they were “better equipped to make decisions.”

Understanding the value of career exploration, improving awareness, and having the resources to succeed in the world of work allows students to see a tangible future for their occupations. With this in mind, they can look beyond the curriculum and know that they are headed toward something that excites them. This makes the journey that much more enjoyable and productive, inspiring students to complete it. With our VitaNavis solution, we are motivated to help our partner institutions improve student success initiatives that lead to higher graduation rates so that students can lead happier, more fulfilled lives.

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How Career Exploration Improves Graduation Rates

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