How to prepare low-income students for the job market

Some students can rely on their family when they have questions about going to college or finding a job.

But students who are the first-generation or who come from low-income families may need to look to their colleges for support, writes Scott Carlson for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

One of the biggest challenges facing first-generation students is that they often have relatively few adults in their lives who can help them prepare for college or for the kind of job search they'll face after graduation. Because they're the first ones in their family to attend college, their families often have little information about being a college student. And a report released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that public high school counselors only spend about 22% of their time with students on college preparation.

To make up for the lack of mentors, some organizations are building support networks to help low-income and first-generation students prepare for their job search.

For example, Our Piece of Pie is a nonprofit that partners with colleges on employment initiatives for low-income students in the Connecticut area.

Our Piece of Pie helps its students with their job-search from start to finish. "We will not let a young person leave our confines until we're comfortable that they're going to be OK in the world of work," says Hector Rivera, the chief operating officer of Our Piece of Pie. The organization offers assistance on everything from looking for job openings and scheduling interviews to training students on the soft skills that can help them succeed in the workplace.

As another example, the career center at the University of California at Berkeley held a conference this year for its first-generation students where they could network with first-generation alumni and employers. During the conference, the alumni and employers offered college and career advice.            

LaGuardia Community College has a program called Pushy Moms. Through the program, the college recruits moms who have experience offering college guidance to their own children and are willing to provide the same or similar kind of support for LaGuardia students, Carlson writes.

LaGuardia's pre-college academic programming and College and Career Pathways Institute also incorporated content about specific career paths and lessons on navigating office culture.

Carlson argues that colleges could also do better at being realistic with students about what they should expect.  For example, Rivera often has a one-on-one conversation with students about what career they are pursuing, how much debt they might incur while pursuing it, and what the chances are of them getting a job in that field after they graduate (Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/28). 

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