Low-Income Students Need Career Development Assistance Argumentative Essay Example

For most of modern history, the push to enroll students in students college as a means to achieve economic mobility has not changed. This is evident in the continued rise of the population with college degrees. According to the U.S Census Bureau, only 5.5% of men and 3.8% of women in the United States had a college degree in 1940. By 2019 the number increased to an astonishing 35.4% and 36.6% respectively (US Census Bureau). While the push to increase enrollment in college has succeeded, colleges seem to be struggling in helping individuals achieve economic mobility. Between January 2016 and September 2020 the number of underemployed college graduates has jumped between 31.8% and 34.9% (Federal Reserve Bank of New York). And at the same time researchers have found that America is facing a shortage of educated individuals in the overall workforce. According to a Georgetown report from 2013,  the U.S was expected to have a shortage of workers with a Bachelor’s degree of around 5 million (US News). In 2015, the Public Policy Institute of California reached a more demanding conclusion, California alone will have than a 5 million shortage by 2030 (PPIC). Colleges have fallen out of sync with the workforce and need to adapt to the tune of the new economy. Colleges and universities lack adequate programs that create a pipeline from education into the workforce.

In order to better help college graduates achieve better employment outcomes, policies should pay special attention to college students from low-income backgrounds. According to researcher Kody Steffy, there are two main kinds of underemployment, voluntary and involuntary. Underemployed college graduates with backgrounds that are not low-income tend to choose to be underemployed. To say it another way,  over 70% of underemployed graduates with non-low-income backgrounds are voluntarily underemployed (Steffy). In contrast, nearly 80% of underemployed college graduates from low-income backgrounds tend to be involuntarily underemployed (Steffy).  This underemployment results in low-income graduates earning considerably less than their higher-income peers (Bartik and Hershbein). To solve the issues of underemployment and satisfy the demand of skilled workers the economy demands it would be more effective to focus on policies that help the career development of low-income learners.

Policy Need:  Low-Income Students Need Career Development Assistance

The first policy that needs to be implemented is an expansion and strengthening of career intervention for low-income students. Career intervention is the term academic counselors use to describe “any treatment or effort intended to enhance an individual’s career development or to enable the person to make better career-related decisions” (Freeman). While most colleges do tend to offer types of career interventions (career counseling, career centers, etc) they seem to reach a minute amount of students. According to a Gallup-Perdue poll from 2016 only about half of college students used their career services offices and only about 16% of them found the advice “very helpful” (Gallup). Furthermore, a 2018 report from Georgetown University found that low-income students would greatly benefit from career development initiatives (Carnevale and Smith). 

An additional issue that negatively impacts low-income students is their employment during college. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 8 out of every 10 students work while in college (Carnevale and Smith). While working is a part of the modern college experience, there is a clear distinction between low-income students and non-low-income students. Working while in college negatively impacts low-income students. Low-income learners tend to work more hours in jobs that are not related to their field and therefore do not gain experience that is seen as valuable to employers (Carnevale and Smith). This also makes it more likely for low-income students to have lower grade point averages, fail courses, and have lower incomes than their peers once they graduate (Carnevale and Smith). There must be avenues for low-income to secure relevant activities without having to worry about their basic financial necessities. 

Lastly, there must be avenues for low-income students to build networks that will aid in their career development. According to researcher Esperança Villar, the common knowledge of networking in college is still key for finding employment and developing a career (Villar). There are two types of contacts that are identified for networking strategies, formal and informal. Strategies that focus on obtaining formal contacts focus mainly on “preparing a resume, a cover letter, employment interviews, and contacting potential employers” (Villar). Career counseling and career intervention help students network using these strategies.  On the other hand, informal contacts are people in an individual’s social network such as “relatives, friends or acquaintances” (Villar). This study finds that “most job leads come from informal contacts” and “it seems that students in the 'informal' group were also more aware of the influence that having friends in the right places actually has” (Villar). This research implies that students of lower-income backgrounds are typically not well connected with strong informal contacts and thus are at a disadvantage in their career development.  

Policy Recommendation: Establish Programs to Improve Low-Income Student Outcomes

The first policy recommendation is the improvement of career intervention strategies. Instead of simply having a career center the administration should make it a clear goal to implement a mandatory career intervention course. In research, career intervention courses “positively influence students’ ability to navigate the career decision-making process, especially increasing their career choice certainty”  (Freeman). Furthermore, students showed a higher level of overalls satisfaction with their career choices, becoming more focused and committed to their career plans (Freeman). These simple yet effective courses will help low-income students better identify career paths and make plans to achieve goals. 

The second policy recommendation is starting programs to make it easier for low-income students to work jobs or internships that are relevant to their chosen career field. As stated earlier, a big reason why underemployment is prevalent among low-income learners is simply the fact that they graduate with less relevant job experience and that tier financial needs usually requires them to work more hours, resulting in lower academic performance (Carnevale and Smith). Colleges should make it a priority to put low-income students in relevant internships. Colleges should create grants that would focus on giving students the financial support they need so that they are free to take internships they otherwise could not afford to take. The grants would last as long as the student is working at a relevant job or internship. This helps close the unemployment gap as low-income learners will be more likely to enter the workforce with relevant skills and experience.

Finally, colleges and universities should help low-income students gain informal contacts through alumni mentorship programs. By leveraging their alumni network, colleges and universities can help give disadvantaged students an informal contact of their own that can help them better navigate the transition from student to employee. In a 2019 publication in the Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, researchers found that alumni mentorship programs had strong positive impacts on both the students and the mentors (Dollinger). Mentors typically were more likely to feel more connected with their alumni network after mentoring students and were also more likely to coaming back again to mentor others (Dollinger). More importantly, students felt they were more employable, more confident talking about their skill sets, more confident in finding employment, and overall had a much better student experience (Dollinger). While colleges and universities might initially struggle to find mentors, it should be noted that after a few years it will not be hard at all. Around 95% of students who go through mentoring programs are more inclined to want to be a mentor to others once they graduate (Dollinger). Therefore, universities should expect to have a large pool of alumni willing to mentor after the initial few years of the mentorship program. The most important and difficult step is simply to start implementing a mentorship program. 

As stated earlier the challenges that face low-income students are not minute. Students who come from a low-income background are more likely to be involuntary underemployed, and more likely to make considerably less than their non-low-income peers. Research that is outlined in this document shows that with career development support such as career intervention courses, relevant work experience, and mentorship programs, students are more likely to find high-quality employment once they graduate. While these solutions may not solve every problem, it is important to note that they do greatly reduce the issues of underemployment. If colleges and universities are willing to go the extra mile and ensure proper workforce preparation, they will once again prove to be the economic drivers of the American economy.