How Can Communities Use Advising to Improve Workforce Readiness?

December 2016

Advising helps students understand how certain postsecondary strategies will lead to the skills that employers want. Academic and career advising by community-based organizations (CBOs), employers, and colleges should be based on local market data so students are aware of the high-demand careers in their region and can be intentional about their postsecondary path. Advising should also be tailored to target populations in order to improve equity in degree attainment and student employment outcomes.

Read this chapter for an introduction to effective strategies that support students with academic and career planning. Learn how Degrees Matter! in Greensboro, North Carolina is using intrusive advising to increase adult degree completion, and gain new tools and resources for advising students in your community on how to become ready for the workforce.

Intrusive Advising: Does your community want advisors to regularly check in with students to monitor their progress? Intrusive advising is a model for proactively engaging students along their way to completing a degree and transitioning into the workforce. Intrusive advisors develop relationships with each student early in their education career and check in at regular intervals. Students who perceive their advisor as caring and proactive are more likely to have a positive academic experience, complete their degree or credential, and be better prepared for the expectations of their chosen career path.

Contextualized Advising: Does your community want to provide students with information personalized to their needs, goals, and work experiences? Contextualized advising provides students with academic and career information tailored to personal needs. Veteran students, for instance, need advising on the GI Bill and other military and federal aid benefits before enrolling in college. Advising should be based on real-time labor market data so students can make informed decisions about pursuing credentials that will likely lead to a well-paying, high-demand job. Institutions, CBOs, government agencies, and employers all have a role to play to ensure data are available to students and to guide them toward gainful employment.

American Job Centers: Does your community want to house advising in a central location? American Job Centers are central locations where current and perspective students can receive resources for applying to available jobs. They can also learn about required qualifications and pursue further education and training. In addition to in-person job centers, resources and information can also be provided through websites and e-tools. Job center advisors act as key intermediaries by connecting the business community to higher education institutions and using data to help students plan for their future education and careers.

Employer Mentorships: Does your community want to connect students with role models from the local business community? Employer-sponsored mentorship programs are an effective strategy to reach students at an early age, often as early as middle or high school, and help them plan for postsecondary education and career goals. Mentoring can be an especially effective intervention for at-risk youth who may become disconnected from the education-to-career pipeline. Employers can use mentoring as an opportunity to share general career advice and encourage students to pursue jobs in the local economy.

Degrees Matter!, Greensboro, North Carolina: Using an Intrusive Advising Model to Increase Attainment

IHEP spoke with Steve Moore from Degrees Matter! in Greensboro, North Carolina to learn how the organization targets advising services toward adult learners and students who left college in order to help them return and complete a degree or credential. Degrees Matter! services include academic advising, assisting with college applications, contacting schools of interest, and career planning. Read this interview to learn how Degrees Matter!, part of the national Graduate Network focused on adult college completion, uses its model for intrusive advising and provides these services free of charge.


IHEP: What was the catalyst for starting Degrees Matter!?

I’ll start with a little bit of history on Guilford County. As recent as the early 2000s, Guilford County was the epicenter of the textile industry in the United States. Similar to Detroit and other Rust Belt cities, we unfortunately lost most of that key industry and, consequently, many of our largest employers, such as Burlington Industries. We were in a recession about 10 years before the Great Recession officially began. Since then, our community has been working hard to strategically align potential college students with local industry clusters that include (1) aviation, (2) specialized business services, (3) life sciences, (4) innovative manufacturing, and (5) supply chain and logistics.

IHEP: Can you explain how you identified your overall college attainment goal?

Degrees Matter! seeks to increase Guilford County’s postsecondary attainment rates to a total of 60 percent by 2025. We approach this goal from the inside out. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a crucial stakeholder in this initiative, is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a community-engaged institution, so developing the goal really began through conversations at the university about the recession and challenges facing the community. Though the university championed the effort from the beginning, there were challenges getting the entire community involved.

IHEP: How did you identify your target population?

We identified our target population by looking at disaggregated data from a number of sources, including the Census Bureau, Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, Lumina, and the Brookings Institution. We also used the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning’s strategies for Adult Learning Focused Institutions with the goal of having every college in the community complete an assessment to provide us with a picture of key employment objectives and the community college ecosystem.

The information we gathered from the data led us to focus on several target populations, notably immigrants. Greensboro is a large immigration hub, so we knew that immigrants were going to be a big part of our work, but when we looked at the data we saw a really interesting picture that you wouldn’t see in many communities. Across the country, Asian communities tend to have high levels of educational attainment, especially in large metropolitan areas where the population is mostly second- and third-generation citizens. However, in Greensboro, the majority of people in the Asian community are first-generation immigrants and many are refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. So when we looked at our data, we found that the Asian population in our area had low levels of educational attainment and that was our “ah-ha” moment for figuring out how best to focus our efforts.


IHEP: Can you explain how you engaged the broader community with the initiative?

We use a community impact model, but we have needed to modify our approach based on local challenges. It’s challenging to organize a community around adult college completion; the needs of adult students don’t resonate with people the same way as those of traditional students going from high school to college. We’ve developed a shared governance model and our strategy is to recruit as our main stakeholders those midlevel representatives who have influence in the community. We strategically chose not to use college presidents and CEO-level individuals, as is usually the case with collective impact models. We were concerned that these high-level people get tapped for any kind of social change initiative. Instead, we have a more grassroots concept that relies on midlevel representatives to be champions of our initiative.

IHEP: How do you connect the work of Degrees Matter! to broader workforce development efforts?

We are working with NC Works and the Greensboro Works taskforce—a cross-sector effort that considers what we can do as a community to improve wages, economic equity, and employee skills—to grow Degrees Matter! into a communitywide project to improve family economic success, workforce development, and college completion. Through the taskforce, we engage representatives from the city and county government, nonprofits, educational institutions, and the business community. For example, we’ve connected with the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce to develop partnerships with large businesses, such as Cone Health and Bank of America, which serve as potential employers for the students we advise.

IHEP: Are there any other partnerships that have been key to your success?

Partnering with the faith-based community has been important for us, in particular with Reverend Odell Cleveland from Mount Zion Baptist Church, whom we met through Greensboro Works and named as our advisory board chair. Our partnership with Mount Zion Baptist Church, which has about 6,000 members, allows us to reach out to their faith-based networks in the community and refer students for advising.


IHEP: Can you explain your method for intrusive advising?

We’re a member of the Graduate Network and we’ve have adapted their method for intrusive advising. When a client first comes to us, we complete an intake to gather basic demographic information, including income level, gender, ethnicity, employment status, and educational attainment. This information is entered into Salesforce, a commonly used customer relationship management system. We then use a workflow to monitor who’s currently enrolled in school, who we need to reach out to for follow-up, and who we need to nudge. We have a number of methods for keeping in touch with our clients, including phone calls, e-mails, and automated nudges through Salesforce. We’re very proactive, all the way until the individual is enrolled in a degree program and then beyond that as well.

IHEP: How do you use contextualized advising to inform students about local labor market needs?

Through advising, we try to align our target individuals who have some college credit, but have not yet finished their degree, with the five local industry clusters. Our advisors use a number of tools, including the O*NET Interest Profiler and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. We use these tools to help students gain an understanding of their interests and skills and the career opportunities those might fit best.

IHEP: How do you match student interests with available jobs?

We don’t try to force people into in-demand jobs, but we try to make them aware of local opportunities and industries with job growth. For instance, a lot of our clients want to be social workers. There’s definitely demand, locally and nationally, for social workers, but the problem is that this occupation doesn’t necessarily pay very high wages. We share this type of information with our clients to help them understand different career options, growing industries, and earning potential.

We have a number of methods for keeping in touch with our clients, including phone calls, e-mails, and automated nudges through Salesforce. We’re very proactive, all the way until the individual is enrolled in a degree program and then beyond that as well.

IHEP: Once a client is enrolled in a degree program, how do you ensure they continue to receive advising services?

We have partnerships with the six colleges that we refer our clients to. When a student transitions, we make sure there’s a smooth handoff and that the new advisor has information about them so they’re not starting from scratch. Details of our partnerships with the institutions are specified in an memorandum of understanding with a few requirements, including that they use Salesforce, continue to communicate with Degrees Matter! about student progress, and provide eight hours of in-kind advising services directly through Degrees Matter!.


IHEP: How do you assess the effectiveness of Degrees Matter!?

We use an evaluation plan and logic model to assess our program, including at the individual level. Mainly, we want to know how many people we are serving; how many people are applying for financial aid; how many people are enrolling in college, persisting, and graduating; and their post-college employment outcomes.

IHEP: Have these data led you to refine any aspects of the Degrees Matter! initiative?

The data we have gathered have helped us better understand our service population. We began by broadly looking at about 71,000 people in our community who started college but didn’t finish. By using Census data, we were able to identify subpopulations critical to the college completion effort, including single mothers of color and Asian and Hispanic immigrants. Based on these data, we are making sure that we have advising materials tailored to our service populations. A next step for us is to create Spanish versions of our materials to better support Spanish-speaking members of the immigrant community.

IHEP: What’s next for the Degrees Matter! initiative?

We are looking to grow the initiative in a few ways. First, we were invited to apply for a Department of Education TRIO grant—funding to serve low-income, first-generation, and disabled students—to open an Educational Opportunity Center. We’re hoping to use that funding to create a central advising location to serve the 71,000 people in our community who fall into our target population of adults with some college experience but no degree. Our model would be very similar to the Café College in San Antonio, Texas.

In addition, we want to scale-up Degrees Matter! to be a statewide model for adult college completion. At the state level, the college systems are already collaborating to improve the credit-transfer process. An initiative at the University of North Carolina, called Partway Home, identifies students who still need to complete 80 or more credit hours and tries to help them finish their degree. So there are a lot of ideas, but I think we need to develop a collaborative completion strategy for the statewide college system.

We use an evaluation plan and logic model to assess our program, including at the individual level. Mainly, we want to know how many people we are serving; how many people are applying for financial aid; how many people are enrolling in college, persisting, and graduating; and their post-college employment outcomes.


O*NET Resource Center

O*NET is a central database that provides occupation information and career interest tools for advisors, students, and workers.


Salesforce is a client management and workflow system that can be used to keep track of client interactions, communication, and progress. The software is available at no cost to eligible nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions.

Additional Resources

Holland’s Theory and Implications for Academic Advising and Career Counseling [2004: Florida State University]

This article includes research on academic and career advising, in particular the student-focused Holland model. After assessing findings from several studies of the use of this model across different colleges, the article provides recommendations for how to design an effective advising program.

Decisions Without Direction: Career Guidance and Decision-Making Among American Youth [2002: Ferris State University]

This paper presents findings from a study based on a survey of rising high school graduates on their future education and career goals. The paper provides data on students’ attitudes and expectations for their futures, as well as recommendations to improve college and career advising and career pathways programs.

Mentoring: At the Crossroads of Education, Business, and Community [2015: Ernst & Young and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership]

This study reports on the benefits of business-sector involvement in mentoring programs for young people, provides a business case for corporate engagement, identifies promising practices and case studies drawn from current programs, and outlines a set of recommendations for future mentoring initiatives.