It's Who You Know: Leveraging Social Networks for College and Careers

By Canche, Manuel S. Gonzalez; D'Amico, Mark M. et al. | Community College Enterprise, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

It's Who You Know: Leveraging Social Networks for College and Careers


Canche, Manuel S. Gonzalez, D'Amico, Mark M., Rios-Aguilar, Cecilia, Salas, Spencer, Community College Enterprise


There is increasing concern that community college student success should not only consider how many students earn degrees, but also how and to what extent the degrees enhance individuals' professional livelihoods. Whether that happens depends on students' ability to make strategic and well-informed choices. Looking through the lens of a "career capital" framework, the present study leveraged a social network analysis to identify and rank sources of information regarding college-going decisions and future career fields. Data were gathered by administering the College and Career Capital Survey at a Southern community college. The key finding is that people in the educational and home settings are among the most prevalent sources, while other college-based sources were not as common. This study has implications for leaders seeking to inform students about college and careers.

Background

With a focus on higher education accountability, measures of success for two-year colleges are moving toward not only considering how many students finish degrees but also how and to what extent those degrees enable graduates to find jobs in their desired career fields and to earn more money than they otherwise could have (Belfield & Bailey, 2011). Whether that happens or not depends, to a great extent, on students' strategic and well-informed choices.

By the time they get to campus, students have already made myriad decisions about the future they want and how the institution and degree program might help make it happen. However, pre-enrollment decision-making is followed by post-enrollment decision-making that leverages individuals' accumulation of new "funds of knowledge" and fonns of "capital" about postsecondary education (Rios-Aguilar, Kiyama, Gravity, & Moll, 2011). In this article, we propose that students' college-going and career-related choices are often guided by infonnation gained from their social networks. Or, to put it simply, it's who you know that influences what you know.

With the more job-oriented or hands-on perspectives that community college curricula offer (Provasnik & Planty, 2008), community college students have a broad range of options, especially when it comes to making post-enrollment academic or career decisions. Whether to transfer to a four-year institution or to earn an associate degree, or whether simply to gain the skills needed for employment, community college students have many decisions to make and a number of distinct institutional entry and exit points (American Association of Community Colleges, 2013).

In related discussions, we have framed "career capital" as particularly useful for understanding community college students' connections between college and careers. Students continue to learn about the institutions in which they are enrolled and how they might leverage their community-college experiences for "boundaryless careers" (Inkson & Arthur, 2001). This learning process is facilitated through the acquisition of postmodern "career capital" that includes knowing how (knowledge), knowing why (purpose), and knowing whom (networks) (DeFillippi & Arthur, 1994). However, discussions of community college students' academic/career decision-making processes, particularly through an analysis of social networks, to date, are not commonplace. Our study represents an important step toward exploring the associations between informational networks and academic and career success of community college students. We believe that understanding the social networks that students employ in their decisionmaking processes is important for two-year college leadership and faculty committed to helping students make strategic and wellinformed choices.

Research questions

The data analyzed here were generated as part of an exploratory study conducted at a Southern community college that introduced the College and Career Capital Survey (for a detailed description, see D'Amico, Rios-Aguilar, Salas, & Gonzalez Canche (2012)). …

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