Closing the Career Opportunity Gap

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn on March 7, 2017. Click here to read the original post. 

In America today, young people from higher income families are eight times more likely to earn a degree than students without these resources. At KIPP we are proud that our alumni are graduating college at a rate above the national average for all kids and four times the rate for low income students, but we still have a way to go to level the playing field.

To learn more about the obstacles that keep our well-prepared and motivated alumni from graduating from college, a few months ago we conducted our first ever survey of KIPP alumni who are enrolled in higher education.

The process was simple: we sent an online survey to the approximately 10,000 KIPP alumni enrolled in college, and we received around 3,000 valid responses. The respondents completed middle and/or high school with KIPP and are enrolled in either two or four year colleges. The vast majority grew up in low-income households.

The findings illuminated two big challenges KIPP alumni face in college: paying for living expenses and accessing job opportunities that are aligned with career goals.

While we knew that many of our KIPP alumni face financial struggles, we were surprised to learn how many are skipping meals to pay for books and other expenses. In fact, about 60 percent of our KIPP alumni reported experiencing “food insecurity,” saying that they often don’t know where their next meal will come from.

Our survey uncovered another issue for KIPP alumni: access to career-relevant jobs and internships. The survey data show that while most KIPP alumni could find summer jobs, less than a third were in fields related to their career goals. Affluent college students can afford to take unpaid or low-paying internships, but our KIPP alumni must prioritize summer jobs that can pay the bills, even if it means sacrificing important career opportunities.

Fortunately, KIPP is working with our college partners and funders to address this career ladder gap. Georgetown University offers qualified students free housing and/or stipends to allow them to stay on campus during the summer and work in the unpaid internships on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that are integral to post-graduation employment. We hope more schools will follow Georgetown’s lead as this is an essential way to diversify our nation’s professional workforce in politics, tech, business, and more.

And KIPP just launched a new program we’re calling our Alumni Accelerator to make sure KIPPsters who graduate from college get the kind of coaching and mentoring that their upper income peers take for granted. The KIPP Alumni Leadership Accelerator is a nine-month, fast-track early-career fellowship supported by Mellody Hobson, a KIPP Champion from Chicago. Fellows receive intensive, individualized career coaching through a partnership with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), along with opportunities to develop and hone tactical skills, expand networks, present to key stakeholders, and more.

The American Dream should be equally available for all students who are prepared to pursue education beyond high school, including our KIPP alumni. As we learn more about the obstacles that prevent KIPP alums and other first generation college students from completing college and accessing career opportunities, it’s imperative that we put our collective will towards addressing these issues.

If our nation is going to solve the challenges of today and the future, we need to make sure the talented and motivated leaders of this generation do not slip through the cracks before they have a chance to reach their goals for college and beyond.

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