More than half of U.S. adults in the country would change at least one educational decision, and 36% would change their college major if they could go back and do it again, according to a new survey from Gallup and Strada Education Network.
“So, that led us to question of how you got advice on how to come to that major in the first place,” said Strada Education Network executive vice president of mission advancement and philanthropy Carol D’Amico. “The most valued source of advice comes from work-based people, employers, yet it is the least used, so our takeaway is how do we increase access, especially for our first generation students?”
Informal work sources, including employers, coworkers and others with experience in the particular field of interest to students offered the best type of advice on how to pursue a postsecondary education that could prepare students for that work. The survey results indicates that respondents found formal sources of guidance, including high school and college counselors, to be the least helpful sources of guidance and advice on major selection, with 64% of respondents reporting a positive appraisal.
Gallup’s executive director of education & workforce development, Brandon Busteed, said the lack of positive reactions to counselors could be due to the challenging counselor-to-student ratios, which he said could reach as high as 1,000 students for each counselor.
“The real big news flash is even if we greatly improve those resources and numbers, it still will not provide the help that is needed,” he said, asserting that employers needed to offer more interaction with students, from increased internship opportunities to something as simple as a day-long job shadowing program. “We definitely want to see those employer-to-school connections ramp up.”
Increasing work-based experience access may especially provide a boost for first-generation students and minority students.
What if institutions offered incentives for informal advising?
D’Amico suggested that since students are utilizing college faculty and non-advising staff at high numbers, there is an opportunity to incentivize this role for non-counseling faculty and staff, whether providing additional internship opportunities or incorporating more real-world experience into the curriculum. Busteed believes many institutions have not yet made the necessary investment in these types of initiatives. He said there are many cost-effective approaches to incorporating more major and career advisement into the curriculum; even if new internship opportunities proved to be difficult to initiate, schools could start by encouraging faculty to incorporate interviews with industry professionals or ruminations on career goals into class assignments or reflection papers.
“Incentives can be a value espoused by the institutional leadership, things that can be recognized and rewarded. There’s so many different ways colleges can incentivize different staff,” he said. “Right now, I don’t see as many people stating this as a value, and framing it in terms of incentives and rewards,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the folks who try to invest in this stuff can move the needle fairly quickly without much money.”
Strengthening the pre-college pipeline
In terms of the high school to college pipeline, Busteed said there are numerous opportunities to expose students to new and different types of professions that could help steer them towards a new postsecondary path, citing the work of Roadtrip Nation, which conducts video interviews with individuals in various professions. The database could be accessed by students who may be able to get a firsthand perspective on a particular kind of job that they may not have previously considered. Educational institutions of all kinds that support these kinds of initiatives can help set off a spark in a student who may embark on their new path.
“I’ve realized there’s an awful lot of advice about advice out there that is uninformed,” he said. “This is shedding great light and forcing us to rethink things.”
D’Amico said it would also be important to analyze how students who embark on the path to garner a vocational or technical credential are being advised, and if other students who may find such a path fulfilling are being adequately introduced to the possibility of pursuing those types of alternative programs.
“People with those credentials are happier and more successful than those with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree,” D’Amico said. “Those people are the most satisfied, but we’re not advising [others] on those paths.”