Concerns about the costs of college, financial burdens and the value of postsecondary education surround the discourse about President Obama’s college completion agenda. Additionally, many students, especially adult learners, first generation college goers and other nontraditional college students, arrive at college without adequate academic and personal preparation and, consequently, low persistence rates. The ambitious college completion agenda, coupled with the high consequences and costs of college attrition, have given rise to an awareness of the need for strategies that support students along a postsecondary pathway.
Navigators recruit students, help them negotiate the college processes, serve as student advocates, and assist them in securing support services. – Colorado Success Unlimited
In Toward a New Understanding of Non-Academic Student Support: Four Mechanisms Encouraging Positive Students Outcomes in the Community College (2011), Melinda Mechur Karp of the Community College Research Center reviews student persistence and program evaluation literature and identifies four mechanisms or processes that support academically vulnerable college students, including adult learners. Karp labels these four mechanisms as:
- Creating social relationships that provide students with a sense of belonging and identity. Early contact and familiarity with faculty, staff, and student peers has proven to increase engagement and persistence.
- Developing college know-how, or college-knowledge, is especially important to first generation college students who have not learned the language and culture of college from family members who have gone before them. This cultural know-how also contributes to a sense of belonging and engagement. Further, lack of familiarity with terminology, policies, and procedures, such as add-drop deadlines, can have serious consequences.
- Clarifying aspirations and enhancing commitments ensures that students know why they are in college and have a sense of how it contributes to their longer term goals. Without this clarity, commitment to the challenges of college becomes tenuous and insufficient to overcome the setbacks and challenges of adjusting to college.
- Making college life feasible by ensuring that students are aware of and know how to access any funding and services that can assist with their basic daily needs, such as food, housing, transportation, and childcare, as well as additional academic supports such as tutoring.
A Navigator is an education and career specialist who assists, coaches, and empowers students to develop and pursue post-secondary, career pathway goals and employment. – Skill-up Washington
A support strategy has emerged that has the potential to reinforce each of these mechanisms to prepare adults for college and career pathways and improve persistence, credential attainment and college completion. It is the role of a College and Career Navigator (Navigator), who serves as a single point of contact to help students translate the complex and unfamiliar terrain of college and ensure that students are aware of and know how to access a comprehensive set of campus and community support services. This role has been established in numerous national and local career pathway initiatives. For example:
- A key intervention of the Massachusetts Community College and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda is a to place a Navigator at each One Stop Career Center (now called American Job Centers) to recruit and assist career center clients who seek postsecondary education and training. In addition to helping clients apply for college and funding, develop a career plan and select a program of study, the Navigators serve as an important bridge between staff at the Job Center and the college, which promotes greater coordination and reduces duplication of service.
- Accelerating Opportunity is a national integrated career pathways initiative that names the coordination of comprehensive student support services as a core program design element. Participating colleges are encouraged to appoint a Navigator as a central point of contact who serves as a bridge to campus and community services. While some colleges hire navigators directly, others contract with community based organizations to provide this role, in order to leverage available human services expertise.
- SkillWorks Partners for a Productive Workforce funds a Navigator who is employed by the Boston Private Industry Council, but based at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC). The Navigator partners with community based organizations and college faculty and staff, such as admissions, financial aid, and advising to ensure a smooth transition to BHCC for participants from Skillworks-funded community based training programs.
The exact job title, core responsibilities, institutional setting and location, timing and duration of the Navigator intervention, and caseload vary and draw from multiple disciplines such as, career counseling, case management, life coaching, academic advising, social work, and advocacy. At the core are some common elements of the Navigator role: help students clarify, commit, and stay on track with educational goals; coordinate, versus duplicate, a broad array of campus and community supports; use a proactive (aka “intrusive”) and personalized approach; appreciate the strengths and resiliency of adult learners; recognize and help to address the challenges adults encounter juggling multiple responsibilities of work, school, and family, with few available resources; bring institutional barriers encountered by students to the attention of college administrators.
World Education’s US Division has been providing online and face-to-face training for College and Career Navigators around the country since 2012. Our free, self-paced course Finding True North: The Role of the Navigator is available to the public and is a good orientation for new navigators or education and workforce program administrators considering creating a position. It is the pre-requisite for a 5-week facilitated course for navigators, Navigating Pathways to Opportunity and registration for the fall 2014 session is open now.
The National College Transition Network, a project of World Education, offers numerous resources for Navigators to use with students, such as Integrating Career Awareness, Mapping Your Financial Journey, and College for Adults.
A compass is a device used to help someone find their way… South represents what’s behind us…our past. Some of us started this program looking back, focusing on our mistakes, lamenting about the regrets we have for our choices and non-choices. While the demands of East and West, family, friends, and work, are important, they do take away from our ability to be the best, most focused learners we can be. And lastly, there is True North, [the Navigator]. She employed a gentle guidance and wisdom to remove self- judgment and fear… She supported while at the same time encouraged self-reliance.
– Excerpt from a graduation speech given by Vicky Kent, graduate of Transition to College and Careers program at Marshwood Adult Education.