This post was originally published by WestEd’s Center for Economic Mobility.

By Pamela Fong 

Traditionally, postsecondary students are expected to start their college journey with some sense about their education and career goals. While some students may know their goals, the reality is that most do not. Until they know their goals, students may waste valuable time and money, taking random classes and delaying the start of their career earnings.

Most community college students believe career advising is what they need when they’re close to completing their coursework and are ready to seek employment — rather than at the start of their college journey. College knowledge, such as establishing education and career goals, participating in career advising, and attending office hours can be considered the “hidden curriculum” of college, especially for first-generation and underrepresented college students. Many students do not understand that these career development activities can help them prepare for their future. And on most campuses, the onus of responsibility is on the student. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Instead, what if career development (the ongoing process of identifying, preparing for, entering, and reevaluating a career) were embedded throughout every student’s college experience? From an equity standpoint, career development provides opportunities for students without the kind of social capital that can bridge them directly to employers.

What if, for example, during orientation students meet a panel of faculty who talk about their education and career journeys? Within the start of their first-year experience, students engage in career planning before education planning and learn about stackable credentials and degree options that lead to employment in the region. What if, when students choose an academic and career pathway, they enroll in a credit-bearing career exploration course and can engage in advising with counselors affiliated with their pathway? What if students experience work-based learning (WBL) as part of their academic and career development, and institutions sustain a team focused on building employer relationships to create those WBL and internship opportunities for students? Finally, imagine if faculty were supported with professional development on ways to integrate career relevance into their curriculum and instruction.

These emerging and promising practices, and many more, are underway at the 10 California community colleges in the San Diego and Imperial region. WestEd spoke with more than 30 career counselors, career services staff, and deans from across the colleges in 2023 and learned about innovative practices of integrating career development into the student experience. In fact, the changemakers we talked with were passionate about this career development effort being equity work that lifts students who have been marginalized into careers that yield family-sustaining earnings. The goal is to ensure that for every student, career development is everywhere and inescapable.

In the brief, Career Everywhere: How Community Colleges Address Equity, prepared for the San Diego and Imperial Regional Consortium and its community colleges, we captured practices and organized them by five themes:

  • Career Awareness during Outreach and Orientation
  • Career Focus Integrated into Academic Pathways and Programs
  • Collaborative Strategies that Broaden Career Services Reach
  • Technology and Career Exploration Courses
  • Professional Development

Read the full-length brief to learn details about the colleges’ practices and to access an annotated bibliography of research-based, equity-centered career development practices. See the executive summary to review the themes. Both resources discuss implementation barriers and calls to action about ways that institutional leaders can better support the collaborative efforts of career services and other departments to advance equity through career development everywhere.