Analysis of Undergraduate Career Preparation Emphasizes Need for Professional

NSSE and Strada researchers identify gaps in social capital development in 2021 NSSE career preparation data
December 8, 2021

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INDIANAPOLIS —  Strada Education Network and the National Survey for Student Engagement today released a new analysis of national educational survey
data, pinpointing stark differences between the career preparation activities first-year college students intend to complete compared to what seniors had actually
accomplished.

Research teams from the two organizations began partnering in 2019 to develop a new topical module focused on career and workforce preparation. The module was available
for the first time in the 2021 NSSE administration and more than 90 U.S. institutions selected the module for administration to their undergraduate students. The resulting
database of more than 55,000 completed surveys is a rich source for understanding current student expectations and experiences for career development. In addition to
demonstrating a mismatch between students’ intentions and actual career preparation activities — particularly in the critical area of social capital development — the analysis
identified equity gaps in career preparation, with first-generation students participating in fewer career-building activities than students whose parents hold at least bachelor’s
degrees.

“NSSE is delighted to partner with Strada and the colleges and universities that chose this module to better understand students’ career-related experiences in college,” said
NSSE’s Jillian Kinzie, Ph.D. “Results suggest the potential for greater institution investment in enhanced career-preparation experiences and internships, and the value
of integrating career and educational goal exploration in courses.”

The analysis emphasizes the importance of supporting students throughout their college experience and encouraging participation in critical social capital-building activities that
will position them to make a strong transition to the job market after graduation. The activities that made the most difference, the researchers said, were networking with
alumni and professionals in their chosen fields and gaining on-the-job experience through internships related to their studies.

“We found promising indicators that, overall, seniors are graduating with a sense of clarity on their career plans and confidence in their budding workplace skills,” said
Elaine W. Leigh, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Strada who was lead author of the report. “However, we also found equity gaps, especially among first-generation
students, in participating in activities like networking with professionals and alumni. These are areas where offering additional support to students can help them navigate the transition from college to career.”

The mismatch between first-year expectations and seniors’ experiences suggests that more intentional efforts are needed somewhere along students’ college journeys to
ensure all students fully take advantage of the services and opportunities for career development on their campuses. Low participation rates among seniors also may reflect
the pandemic’s disruption on access to career services in general, they said.

When seniors, and in particular, first-generation students, participated in social capital-building activities in college, they reported greater confidence in their workplace
skills and greater clarity in their career plans.

The full report is available online.

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About Strada Education Network

Strada Education Network is a new kind of nonprofit social impact organization, dedicated to increasing individuals’ economic mobility through purposeful connections
between education and employment. Our approach combines innovative research, thought leadership, strategic philanthropy and investments, and support for a network of
nonprofits. Together, we work to better serve the millions of Americans seeking to complete postsecondary education and training, gain clear value from those
experiences, and build meaningful careers. Learn more at stradaeducation.org .