This Accelerator Empowers Low-Income Students to Jump the...

Diversity and Equity

This Accelerator Empowers Low-Income Students to Jump the College-to-Career Divide

By Aimée Eubanks Davis     May 29, 2017

This Accelerator Empowers Low-Income Students to Jump the College-to-Career Divide

Jalil did all that we tell our young people they need to do in order to succeed. He graduated from the Fremont Unified School District and went on to attend De Anza Community College. He worked hard, got good grades, and transferred to San José State University. As a transfer junior, he spent three hours each day commuting back and forth to campus and paid for school with grants and scholarships.

Jalil did everything right. But as a junior he had far fewer connections and career-related experiences than many of his more affluent peers. He wasn’t as likely to land the same fancy summer internship. He didn’t ‘know a guy that knew a guy’ that was a higher-up in Silicon Valley. He just worked incredibly hard and stayed incredibly focused—which we know should be enough, but isn’t.

Only one in four of the 1.2 million low-income or first-generation college enrollees each year will graduate and land a strong first job or enter grad school. African American young people, like Jalil, are twice as likely to end up unemployed even with their Bachelor’s degree. The causes stem from a lack of access to career skills, mindsets, experiences and networks.

Certain invisible privileges often come to students from more affluent backgrounds—from parents who can help their children put together compelling resumes, to a sibling who’s gone through the interview process just a few years before, to a family friend who works at a thriving company and will make a connection. But for students without such privileges, these stepping stones are absent, and they’re left trying to jump a gap that other young folks quietly glide across.

In America, hard work and ambition should be met with equality of opportunity. And when there are barriers to this deeply held ideal, we must address them.

In my work leading Braven—an organization that partners with innovative, public universities and local employers to provide a two-part career acceleration experience—we’re learning a lot. The schools we partner with have the potential to be engines of opportunity for students who depend on a degree to open the doors of economic freedom. And we are gaining some key early learnings around what it takes to propel talented students like Jalil across the college-to-career divide.

Teach Students to Fish

Students need practice in putting together strong resumes and cover letters, successfully applying and interviewing for internships, and communicating with professional polish. These skills aren’t taught in college, but are critical for landing meaningful internships and jobs. Higher income students learn these skills around their dining room tables. Students from lower income backgrounds often have no such supports. And, on average, there are 3000 students per college career services adviser. Just like we can teach a five-paragraph essay, we can teach students to write a great LinkedIn profile, interview in a way that lets them shine, and communicate professionally.

Build Social Capital

Professional networks matter. Without an endorsement, a cold resume has a 1-in-152 shot of leading to a job. This is compared to odds of 1-in-16 with an endorsement. Students from underrepresented backgrounds often don’t have the broad professional networks that can lead to these types of referrals. By teaching students how to build relationships beyond their immediate family and friendship circles and exposing them to individuals in the professional workforce, we can help them expand their network. This in turn enables them to get in the door and get the attention from hiring managers they deserve.

Increase Confidence

Untapped college students have overcome incredible hurdles to get where they are. They should have tremendous confidence in their ability to run the last few miles of their academic career and make the transition to a strong job. And, yet, we see time and again that our students don’t fully see their assets. They question their worth and ability to compete in a professional workforce that often doesn’t reflect their backgrounds. It’s important to give this group of students the time to explore and understand their personal leadership assets, as well as opportunities to practice competing in environments similar to the ones in which they hope to work.

Practice in Professional Competencies

Our young people need to grow critical competencies that hiring managers know are necessary for our new economy. They need practice in design thinking, operating and managing, and working in teams. They must be able to plan projects, use data to solve complex problems, and give and get feedback. We need to get serious about providing the time and the space for our students to practice and excel in these competencies in real-world situations, as these are core to their long-term success and advancement in the workplace.

Flip the Classroom

Merging self-paced online content with in-person experiential learning is allowing us to meet students where they’re at. This is particularly important for students who are often commuters and work full-time outside of school. Through an online portal—with relevant videos, sample professional materials, and built in checks for learning—students have a chance to digest content at their own speeds and in their own learning styles. In-person time is then freed up for building community and professional networks, getting feedback, and engaging in real-world work challenges.

Our team at Braven had the privilege of working with Jalil in his junior year in the credit-bearing course we lead at San José State University. In this time, he worked through online content and with a coach from the workforce and a cohort of his peers to develop his resume and interview skills, apply to (and get!) a paid internship with Teach For America, communicate with the workforce, expand his network, understand his personal leadership assets, and learn to use data and design thinking to solve complex problems.

And Jalil’s hard work paid off. At the start of his senior year, he earned a coveted Google Bold internship in Mountain View.

There are millions of students from every neighborhood in this country who, like Jalil, are working hard to get a fair shot at reaching their dreams. All we have to do is get more creative about how we use their time in college to give them access to career skills, mindsets, experiences, and networks. If we do, they will prove, like generations before them, that the American Dream is alive and well.

Aimée Eubanks Davis is the founder and CEO of Braven.

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