Complete College America today released a new report to guide implementation of Purpose First, the organization’s strategy that creates a “missing link” between career choice, guided pathways, and first-year momentum. The report, College, On Purpose, lays out the components of a Purpose First experience focused on helping students explore interests and careers, make informed choices and hit early benchmarks toward on-time graduation. It also features findings from a three-year demonstration project supported by Strada Education Network.

More than half of adults would change at least one of their education decisions if they had to do it all over again and 36 percent would have chosen a different major, according to a 2017 Gallup and Strada Education Network poll. Too often, college-bound students choose from an overwhelming number of majors without a clear understanding of how those majors align with career options. These uninformed decisions can ultimately lead students to extend their time to degree, accumulate excess debt, or drop out altogether. Underrepresented students are disproportionately affected by these challenges, diminishing critical efforts to close achievement gaps.

Building on CCA’s work focused on guided pathways and informed choice, the Purpose First strategy envisions a redesigned institutional structure that provides students with early opportunities to identify their interests, explore possible careers and review labor market data and other relevant information to inform their decision-making. College, On Purpose offers institutions best practices for successful implementation of Purpose First across five key areas: Institutional Culture; Recruiting, Admissions & Onboarding; Career Exploration; Academic Structures; and The First Year & Beyond.

“Early momentum has been proven to dramatically increase the likelihood a student will reach graduation,” said CCA Vice President Dhanfu Elston. “Purpose First is an institution-wide effort to ensure students are supported in making informed decisions about their interests and career goals in the first year of their academic journey that put them on a path to success in college and beyond.”

“Since its inception, Complete College America has been laser-focused on advocating for better and more equitable outcomes for students,” said CCA President Yolanda Watson Spiva. “We look forward to working with institutions to implement Purpose First, creating environments where students are given the resources and opportunities to make informed choices about their future, and are equipped with the tools to help them avoid delaying or derailing their college completion goals.”

In October 2018, CCA published Shared Beliefs and Practices for Putting Purpose First in American Higher Education, a collaborative report with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and the National Career Development Association (NCDA) outlining a shared vision for incorporating early career exploration and academic planning into the student on-boarding experience. These partners also provided valuable input on integrating high impact practices across different institutional areas and roles to develop a comprehensive Purpose First strategy.

CCA released a comprehensive version of College, On Purpose that provides additional context and case studies. To download the full report and access additional Purpose First resources and materials, go to