New Report: College, On Purpose

JUST RELEASED: Complete College America’s new report to guide implementation of Purpose First, a strategy that creates a “missing link” between career choice, guided pathways, and first-year momentum. The report 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.

Read the executive summary here.

Read the full report here.

Purpose First

Far too often, today’s college students find themselves wandering through their academic experiences, choosing from amongst a dizzying array of majors, courses, and out-of-classroom learning experiences. While having choices is a good thing, more than a decade of research suggests that too many choices, especially in the absence of adequate information, can have negative effects.

At worst, this “paradox of choice” leads to a dead end for students, yielding some college credit but no degree or other credential of value. But even for those who do complete, data reveal that many have swirled, accumulating excess credits, extending their time to degree, and tacking on extra costs in the process.

That’s why, in 2016, Complete College America and Strada Education Network announced an initiative to design a new model of advising and student intake that would equip students with valuable information, empower their decision-making, and build early academic momentum as they work toward degrees and ultimately careers.

Through partnerships with admissions, enrollment service, academic advising, and career services professions, Purpose First aims to redesign the student on-boarding experience by actively integrating information and support to better help students make informed decisions regarding their majors and careers.

Purpose First Convening Student Panel


This document provides a shared vision from its authors – CCA, AACRAO, NACADA, NACE, NASPA, and NCDA – for incorporating early career exploration and academic planning into the student on-boarding experience. Read it here.

Additional Resources

Identifying the Problem

The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates (Report)

Does Changing Majors Really Affect the Time to Graduate? (Research Report)

The Pipeline Problem: How College Majors Contribute to the Gender Pay Gap (Research Report)

The Impact of Change of Major on Time to Bachelor’s Degree Completion with Special Emphasis on STEM Disciplines (Report)

Mindsets and the Learning Environment: Relationships Between Mindsets and Academic Outcomes in a Statewide System of Higher Education (Research Snapshot)

A Mind at Work: Maximizing the Relationship Between Mindset and Student Success (Report)

Improving community college completion rates by addressing structural and motivational barriers (Report)


Women Can’t Win: Despite Making Educational Gains and Pursuing High-Wage Majors, Women Still Earn Less than Men (Report)

African Americans College Majors and Earnings (Report)

Hispanics: College Majors and Earnings (Research)

Aiming for Equity (Guide)

10 Equity Questions to Ask about Career and Technical Education (Article)

Balancing Work and Learning: Implications for Low-Income Students (Report)

Challenges to Equity in CTE (Article)

Career Pathways

Career Pathways: Five Ways to Connect College and Careers (Report)

Know the Difference: Career Pathways vs Guided Pathways (Article)

Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand from High School to College Jobs (Report)

Get with the Program: Accelerating Community College Students’ Entry Into and Completion of Programs of Study (Working Paper)

Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College (Report)

Student Experience

An Exploration of Undeclared Students’ Expectations of Experiences for Faculty Interactions and Co-Curricular Involvement (Dissertation)

Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges
Survey: Career Relevance Boosts Positive Perceptions of Higher Education (Survey)

Integrating Academic and Career Development (Research)

Crisis of Confidence: Current College Students Do not Feel Prepared for the Workforce (Report)

Mentoring College Students in College (Survey)

Decision making

Career Decision-Making Self-Efficacy, Perceived Stress, and an Integrated Model of Student Persistence (Journal Article)

Higher education choice-making in the United States (Working Paper)

Adjusting Expectations: The Impact of Labor Market Information on How Undergraduates View Majors and Careers

On Second Thought: U.S. Adults Reflect on Their Education Decisions (Report)

Why Higher Ed? Top Reasons U.S. Consumers Choose Their Educational Pathways (Report)

Student Behaviors in Relation to Majors and the Impact on Graduation (Research Paper)

Workforce and Careers

Supply and Demand for Higher-Level
Using workforce data to improve student outcomes (Report)

Expanding the Definition of College and Career Readiness (White Paper)

Building Strong Middle Class Through Career Pathways Programs (Report)