I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Career prep in college can be a tool for social justice.

Campus career centers have long been a convenient punching bag. But in the past few years, I’ve come to see the generalized critiques as unfair, at least for the growing number of colleges now paying more attention to employer connections, providing richer opportunities for experiential learning, and developing more-creative approaches to credentialing. Heck, at some colleges, career centers even edge out climbing walls as the must-see highlights of the campus tour.

A lot of the effort on this has served (or sought) to enhance the return on investment that students and families expect from college. And that desire to demonstrate ROI hasn’t gone anywhere.

But now — especially at this stage of the pandemic — another force is driving innovation in career development: equity and social justice.

That’s a bold claim, I know. But judging by the sentiments and ideas I heard from college leaders at two recent virtual forums I hosted, I’m comfortable declaring this an emerging trend.

Neither forum was focused specifically on social justice. But during College to Career, Post-Pandemic last week and Attracting Students to Cutting-Edge Programs in August, a commitment to equity pervaded the panelists’ thinking on cultivating students’ career opportunities — both because the institutions believed in it and because students were insisting on it. Such approaches may not yet be the norm, but they show how intention and investment can make a big difference for students.

So what did I hear?

Colleges are expecting more from employers.

Case in point: Florida A&M University is raising the bar for organizations that want to come and recruit its students. Employer interest is “off the charts,” said Bill H. Means, director of the Career and Professional Development Center there. But FAMU is looking for employers truly committed to hiring — and supporting — graduates of the historically Black institution. That means recruiters should be able to answer students’ questions like, What do you believe in? What’s your stance on social justice? What are you doing in the community?

Similarly, the Internship and Career Center at the University of California at Davis looks to promote employers with strong in-house affinity organizations, also known as employee resource groups. A “strong ERG,” said Marcie Kirk Holland, the center’s executive director, is a good indicator that an employer will be welcoming to graduates from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds and “allow them to still maintain their identity and bring it to the organization.”

Experiential education can expose less-advantaged students to fields they might not have known about otherwise.

Internships and co-ops are the classic vehicles for real-world learning. While some of those opportunities dried up when Covid-19 hit, the pandemic also led to a surge in virtual internships, which can be more broadly accessible to students. And it’s not just individual colleges getting on board: The Kansas Board of Regents is now subsidizing virtual “micro-interships” for students at any one of the state’s 32 public colleges, in collaboration with a company called Parker Dewey.

Colleges are also finding new ways of employing students in jobs that can double as career prep. St. Cloud State University, in Minnesota, does that through an industry partnership program that requires students to be part of projects when companies contract for university research. And UC-Davis has enhanced traditional campus jobs in transportation and the dining halls, as well as at a Covid-testing site, with management training that has made routine work more meaningful. Students at MiraCosta College, in California, can now participate in community-based science (you may have heard it called “citizen science”), developing technical expertise to take on issues they see in their own neighborhoods. That’s a way into STEM and other fields that might seem too intimidating or unwelcoming to some students, said Sunita V. Cooke, the college’s president. But there’s an appeal, she said, to “solving problems for and with your community.”

The pipeline needs to start earlier.
Not every institution will go as far as St. Cloud State, which sends a 53-foot Science Express trailer to elementary schools throughout rural Minnesota to share experiments with lasers, chemistry, and infrared technology in a mobile lab. But there’s growing recognition that such early exposure can expand students’ horizons. That’s the thinking behind a state-funded regional collaboration that MiraCosta is part of around San Diego, including college-level and precollege internships for students in “high-skill, high-wage, high-mobility” industries, Cooke said, so people in the community “can train here and live here.”

See you at Educause this week?

Woo hoo! For the first time since the start of the pandemic, I’ll be hitting the road for a work trip: the Educause annual conference this week in Philadelphia. I’m eager to bump elbows and hear what’s happening with you or colleagues of yours who may be there. If you don’t spot me (behind my mask) in a session or roaming the hallways, I hope we can meet up in the exhibit hall. In fact, I plan to stake out a spot there — near the Learning Theater — on Wednesday, starting at 5 p.m. I’ve got a bagful of The Edge computer stickers for you! Hoping you’ve got some news or ideas for me.

Recommended reading.

Here are some education-related stories from other outlets that recently caught my eye. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.

  • Whether or not your campus is in person again, we are all likely to face challenges navigating the new culture of the workplace. As one Stanford economist told The Washington Post in this Q&A, “the unwanted handshake could be seen as a kind of microaggression.”
  • Another argument for women’s colleges: Consider the stat a Forbes contributor cites in this piece: Eighty-one percent of women’s-college graduates report their institution was very or extremely effective in helping prepare them for their first job, compared with 61 percent of those who went to a public institution.
  • Low completion rates at Calbright College, California’s newest public two-year institution, are fueling renewed criticism of the online college. In two years, according to EdSource, fewer than 70 students have completed a certificate.

Consider being a contestant in our Chronicle Festival “shark tank.”

As part of the Chronicle Festival, on Day 2 (November 17), we’re inviting you to put your student-success ideas to the test in a special, Shark Tank-style panel.

This will be a variation on the Shark Tank: Edu Edition we’ve traditionally hosted at SXSW EDU.

Got an idea — proven or theoretical — for a better way for colleges to support students to graduation? Ready to showcase it before our panel of “sharks”? Send a short email proposal to ci@chronicle.com to be considered.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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