We all know plenty of students who earn a degree only to be unemployed or underemployed simply because their skills are not aligned to the needs of the labor market. And you know who these people are: They are the boomerang children who went off to college, earned a degree, and are now living with their parents.

While the presidential debate focuses on how to handle rising student-loan debt and the increasing cost of college – both important issues worthy of our attention – I also believe focusing on the relevance of college is just as important. A student’s – and society’s – potential return on investment from post-secondary options are critical to ensuring the next generation has opportunities to live and thrive in the middle class and beyond.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with Gallup Inc., and USA Funds, announced the launch of its new interactive tool earlier this month, Launch My Career. The Colorado-specific website provides students and families with information about certificates or degrees from post-secondary schools, including technical schools and community colleges, and the jobs and careers to which these certificates and degrees will lead.

Launch my career image

At the launch event, our member Ray Johnson of IBM and I joined representatives from Gallup and Colorado institutions of higher education for a panel discussion about why this tool is needed.

If you’re familiar with Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, you’ve read about the Hedgehog Concept. I see the Launch My Career website as a way to support students in grappling with their own hedgehog analysis. If you are unfamiliar with it, the concept centers on three questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What can you be best in the world at?
  • What drives your economic engine? – many parents would settle for “what do you need to earn to move out of my basement?”

Students can use Launch My Career to find relevant information around “hot jobs” across Colorado, the cost of an education to get into those careers, and what your “return on investment” would be in pursing those careers over time. As you can see in the image below, accountants and auditors are the number 1 hot job in Colorado, with a median starting salary of $45,455. The top major for these jobs is accounting. Users can then take a deeper dive into each career to see trends and other valuable information.

hot jobs image

Increasing access to post-secondary options is important – especially for communities who are underrepresented. By 2020, three out of four jobs in Colorado will require an education after high school. However, it’s just as important to make sure students are accessing relevant educational opportunities that will lead to good paying jobs and self-sustaining career pathways.

How do we do that?

We give students the tools they need to explore different possible pathways so they can choose what makes the most sense for them. The earlier we expose students to the opportunities and varied career paths they could pursue, the better.

The goal then is to get students thinking about the Hedgehog Concept earlier and more often – before they ever choose a college, university, or certificate program. But it’s also our responsibility to give all students educational experiences that help them explore the answers more fully.

Educators have taught me that if we give ordinary kids extraordinary experiences, we can help make them exceptional. What do these extraordinary experiences look like?

To cite the research of Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education and Workforce Development at Gallup, educators are the ones that create hope and engagement. And we know that engaged students are successful students. Teachers and schools can encourage such engagement by:

  • Creating inspiration – Give students an opportunity to envision a world of possibilities that they may have otherwise not considered.
  • Create relevance – This answers the age-old question “why does what I’m learning in school matter?”
  • Create pathways – Give students opportunities to build skills that lead to high school diplomas, industry certifications, college degrees, and high-skill, high-wage jobs.

At Colorado Succeeds, we have long believed that access to credible and reliable information only empowers students and families to make better and more well-informed decisions. It’s why we launched Colorado School Grades more than five years ago. Now, Launch My Career brings the same principles of transparency and accountability to higher education and the job market. This is information that Colorado students deserve and that employers want them to have.

By Scott Laband
Colorado Succeeds