Why Every College Needs an AI Program and How to Get Started

Uncovering Pathways to Fulfilling Employment for Every Student

Megan McCorkle
February 15, 2024
9 mins

Developing the skills needed to succeed in life after college, and developing the skills needed to identify and pursue that life have been traditionally modeled as separate pursuits in higher education. However, there is a growing demand from college students not just for increased career support, but requiring learning or research into potential career paths as part of college courses themselves.

As the value of higher education is questioned, it’s more important than ever to deliver educational experiences that deliver positive return-on-investment for graduates. Edge Research found that the top three “Extremely Important” reasons students gave for getting a degree were to make more money, get a better job, and get training for a specific career. Yet nearly half of college grads regret their college major in hindsight because of the disconnect between classroom learning and outcomes. Our mission at Rize has remained the same from the beginning: to help college students find a pathway to fulfilling employment. We want to ensure students can explore a career more fully before graduating and committing to it, given the importance of this decision.

This doesn’t only impact student outcomes. It impacts whether or not students enroll in college and where they enroll. There is also general evidence to suggest that supporting student actions toward securing jobs increases student retention, which has downstream effects on the aggregate success of academic degree programs. So engaging and guiding students toward jobs is valuable for the student, and leads to greater student success in their academic program holistically. But tactically, how can colleges embed career exploration into the classroom? 

We spent the last several months meeting with students and campus leaders to more deeply understand the challenges they’re facing and develop an innovative solution. The resulting report focuses on the shared journey between college students and their institutions toward achieving successful student outcomes. It emphasizes the objectives, pain points, and success measures of students and colleges, backed by qualitative research and discovery interviews. The report identifies the most prominent user personas across both parties, aiming to highlight their emotional identity, goals, motivations, and challenges. Below is a summary of our learnings and how we’re connecting the dots between student and institution needs with new career navigation courses. You can download the full report here.

Research Overview

We interviewed over 60 students and key stakeholders in advising, career services, and student success across multiple colleges, which highlighted the gap between understanding the importance of career preparation and taking actionable steps. Students are actively seeking someone to make them participate in career preparation activities. In addition, we found that students are craving more real-world experience, as well as networking skills and mentorship resources.

Key Discovery Insights: Students

Defining Core Jobs to be Done

To build the best possible solution for students, we must first clearly understand the “jobs” they are trying to accomplish by paying for and attending college. College students choose to attend for various reasons, but there are two core jobs that every Rize student is enrolled in college to accomplish. In their interviews, students directly and indirectly highlighted this as they described their student experience. The two core jobs are as follows:

1. “Decide on a pathway”

Before a student can focus on landing a job, they must first determine where to focus their efforts. At its core, this job statement is about effective exploration. Incoming college students are not created equal in their preparedness and pre-existing knowledge of the real world. Many students, especially first-generation students, are unaware of the various pathways available upon receiving a degree. They may have always associated college degrees with becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers. While these are all viable options, many other pathways could be a better fit for these students. This job statement highlights the need for students to explore these viable options before investing their time, college credits, and effort into a specific career path. This decision can come in the form of a major declaration, a minor declaration, or even just finding a job title or function to target.

2. “Secure a job after graduation”

Once the first job is done, and a student makes a high-conviction decision on what pathway to target, their focus shifts towards securing a job within that pathway. When asked what drove their decision to attend college, students always referenced employment opportunities in their answers. Students view college as a means to achieve better employment outcomes and thus expect that their institution will assist them in achieving that outcome. In conversations held with career services officers, they often referred to students “walking into their office and saying ‘I need a job.’” Given what we know about college students in America, this type of interaction is unsurprising. A broad misunderstanding among teenagers causes them to think that they’ve accomplished enough to succeed simply by enrolling in college. The common belief is that securing a job upon graduation is a foregone conclusion once they've made it that far. This belief, however, is not the reality, and students are instead faced with their most important objective up to this point in their young lives - securing a job.

Pain Points

Student interviews elucidated various pain points and areas of need in students’ journey toward securing a post-graduate outcome. Below is a list of a few of the most significant student pain points and needs, written from a student's perspective, broken down by core job-to-be-done. For a complete list of pain points, download the full discovery report here.

1. First/Second Years (Deciding on a Pathway):

  • My advisor doesn’t know enough about my field of study
  • My classes don’t teach me enough about the careers available in that field of study
  • I don’t learn enough about real-world applications of the subject I’m studying

2. Second/Third Years (Securing a Job):

  • My campus careers POC doesn’t know enough about the field I want to study
  • I don’t have any way to facilitate connections with people in my field
  • I can’t motivate myself to engage with career services resources on campus (job fairs, seminars, etc.)
  • I have too much going on in my personal life to think about anything other than coursework
  • I don’t know when I should be starting my job preparation efforts (resume, interview prep, job applications)

Connecting the Dots Between Student and Institution Needs

Students and colleges want a lot of the same things. Students want to succeed, graduate college, and get a job. Colleges want to enable students to do those things. The needs for colleges and students overlap in some key areas that can guide our focus as we build the career-readiness programming of the future.

Making Career Preparation Mandatory 

We know that many students admit they cannot motivate themselves to take initiative in their career preparation and search. Despite the best efforts of our partners, career services resources are faced with low engagement and little enthusiasm from students. When students only have time to prioritize coursework due to their personal lives, other areas fall by the wayside. Bringing more career preparation exercises into the classroom as mandatory exercises would be welcomed by students who only have time and energy to focus on coursework, and would also solve the pain point career services face in driving engagement to their resources.

More “Real-World Experience” 

In conversations with students, they commonly referred to real-world experiences such as hands-on projects, work experience, or shadowing as their “light-bulb moment” when deciding on a pathway. Bringing more real-world experiences into the student journey allows students to confidently and quickly decide their pathway. Confident pathway decisions also hit on the critical success measure of student retention for colleges, as studies have shown that students with a clear narrative and pathway in mind are more likely to retain year over year. Real-world experience is also a significant resume boost, which benefits students and colleges by improving job outcomes for students.

Mentorship Resources

Career Services are understaffed and under informed in many areas. Students require more professional industry connections and better career advice. Introducing additional mentorship resources hits on both of these needs; career services leads can outsource aspects of their coaching and guidance, and students benefit from networking and learning from industry professionals.

Learning About Career Pathways Early and Often 

We know that students struggle to find opportunities to explore different fields adequately. This struggle is either due to their own overconfidence in their predetermined pathway or their lack of time in their course schedule to explore adequately. Bringing career pathway explorations into 100-level courses gives students low-lift, low-investment ways to better understand the prospects available to them by studying different fields. This has downstream effects that lead to more students in the correct field of study. Those students are thereby more likely to retain and graduate.

Download the full report

A Pathway Forward

Our research highlighted the growing need for additional support for students in their career exploration and discovery process throughout the collegiate experience and guided our development of an actionable solution. We’re excited to announce the launch of new career navigation courses in some of our most popular programs, including Cybersecurity, Computer Science, Digital Marketing, and Business Analytics

In these courses, we will help students explore career and salary outcomes, learn the skills they need to navigate the job market, and build confidence in their ability to secure an exceptional career after graduation. We’ll give students insight into what a career or job in this field would actually look like day-to-day. These courses will be available to partner colleges offering any of the above degree programs.

By connecting the dots between students and colleges needs, we’re able to deliver the career navigation support students need in a low lift way for college partners. 

If you’re any existing Rize partner college, contact your Partner Success Lead to learn more. To join the 85+ colleges already leveraging Rize to launch career-focused degree programs in as quickly as one semester, submit the form below.

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