Connecting First Generation College Students To Amazing First Jobs

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As college seniors return to campus this fall and begin thinking about what steps they want to take after graduation, it may already be too late for them to land the strong first job of their dreams. In high-paying industries like finance, accounting, and management consulting, recruiting season begins every fall and your fate is sealed by winter – of a college student’s junior year. So, although it literally still pays to go to college, for college students from low income backgrounds, it simply does not pay as much. According to an eye-opening study from The Brookings Institute, students from low income backgrounds earn, on average, 66 cents on the dollar of their higher income peers. These numbers are personal to Aimée Eubanks Davis, the Founder and CEO of Braven.  

Eubanks Davis is a former sixth grade teacher who was an executive on Teach For America’s national human resources team at a point where they saw 80,000+ applicants a year for its corps members and staff positions. When one of her former sixth grade students was ready to graduate and apply to the Teach For America’s teaching corps, Eubanks Davis was thrilled. This young lady did everything right, buying into the narrative Eubanks Davis and many educators pushed: a college degree was the ticket to the American Dream. But despite having unquestionable potential, her former student came across as “lacking confidence” in her interview and missing other “intangibles.” It’s important to note that Teach For America’s selection process mirrored the rigor of many Fortune 500 companies. So for Eubanks Davis, it stood to reason that if it could happen at Teach For America where they were going to great lengths to recruit diverse talent from the communities, this must also be happening across the country with other top places to work. But just how many of our nation’s hardest-working students from diverse backgrounds were being shut out of opportunities with top companies because they do not have the experiences, networks, and access that their more affluent peers have?

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According to Braven, the number is close to one million. Only 25% of low-income, first generation college students will graduate with a quality first job or go to graduate school. Eubanks Davis gives context to these problems by highlighting the “invisible privileges” students from more affluent backgrounds benefit from, including “parents who can help their children put together compelling resumes, to a sibling who’s gone through the interview process just a few years before, to a family friend who works at a thriving company and will make a connection.”

This matters because meaningful opportunities post-graduation are particularly crucial for students from low-income backgrounds. With the inequitable new normal of forcing students to take on mountains of student loan debt, first jobs are more important than ever for college graduates from humble beginnings. Meaningful opportunities right out of college also set the foundations for economic mobility. In a world where it is less likely than ever for children to out-earn their parents, careers with potential for promotions, opportunities to make enough to set aside savings, and build meaningful professional relationships are especially important for students from low-income backgrounds.

Fortunately, many organizations work hard to close this gap. The National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers offer tremendous career fairs and opportunities directed towards minority students pursuing careers in STEM fields. INROADS helps first generation college students navigate the hidden nuances of corporate America. Programs like these, however, are often limited to specific career fields and limited to the extent that first generation students from low income families can participate. With a significant number of these students needing to work while attending school, it is hard enough to maintain good grades and graduate on time. Participating in extracurricular activities to build a professional network is often simply not an option for students who typically commute and work.

Meanwhile, these networks matter tremendously for students from low-income backgrounds. Noted Harvard economist Raj Chetty writes a great deal about the dense social networks (and lack thereof) that strongly shape an individuals’ ability to land jobs, earn higher salaries and be happier and healthier. Often referred to as social capital, these  invisible privileges that come from the “who you know” factor. So many smart, young people have worked hard their entire lives with the promise that their college degrees are just the last step toward long, rewarding careers. But the fact is, only 25% of the about 1.2 million low-income, first-generation college enrollees will attain a quality first job or go to graduate school. These are students who have done everything right, but who also exist in a system that puts a premium on connections and experiences that are not offered in a classroom. 

Braven has a unique approach to connect first generation students from low-income backgrounds to meaningful opportunities post-graduation. Braven partners with innovative public universities and employers to arm under-represented students with the practical skills, strong internship experience and professional networks that help students obtain a strong job within six months of graduation. Today, Braven’s Fellows are outpacing peers in job attainment, earnings and savings. According to Braven’s 2018-19 Impact report, 69% of Braven graduates land jobs within their first six months of graduation, 48% already fulfill the promise of economic mobility by out-earning their parents, and 75% are able to put away savings with their current income (compared to 41% of young people ages 25-34).

Braven’s results are exciting, but not necessarily surprising. These are students who have already defied the odds to make it to college to begin with. Determination and grit are their superpowers. But Braven’s focus on intentionally equipping these students with the “hidden curriculum” and carefully crafted social networks to land their first jobs sets them up to make the most out of these opportunities. Students at schools like Rutgers University – Newark and San Jose State take Braven as a course for college credit. This ensures that students can attain these necessary skills as a seamless part of their college degree program instead of an extracurricular activity they often do not have time for. Braven also helps students gain access to coveted internships, both paid and unpaid, and jobs from their employer partners. 

Braven is currently serving 1600 fellows and rapidly expanding their model and influence. Imagine what our board rooms, innovation centers and country would be like if we helped our most diverse and determined talent transition from college to career on stronger footing? That would be a “Braven” new world we could all get behind.

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