New Hampshire Community Colleges Help Students Put ‘Purpose First’ With Career Coach

Published on Apr 30, 2019

Updated on Oct 12, 2023

Written by Remie Verougstraete

New Hampshire Community Colleges Help Students Put ‘Purpose First’ With Career Coach


  • The Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) is participating in Complete College America’s “Purpose First” initiative, aimed at helping students make career exploration and planning an early priority in their academic journey.

  • As part of this initiative, CCSNH is implementing an innovative course called “Ethnography of Work” that combines career research using Career Coach, visits to local employers, and a strong grounding in ethnography to equip students with the tools and information they need to make good career decisions.

  • Early results have been positive, including a 33% higher retention rate for students enrolled in Ethnography of Work. Students in this class are also 50% more likely to narrow their academic focus by moving from undeclared status, or a broad meta-major like liberal arts, to a more precise major such as history or math.

Helping students put purpose first

As participants in Complete College America’sPurpose First’ initiative, the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) has spent the past year exploring innovative ways to help students discover and prepare for meaningful careers. In particular, they wanted to equip students with the resources to be actively engaged in that process. To achieve this, faculty have drawn on their years of experience working closely with students to design a multifaceted strategy focused on implementation and adoption.

Dr. Ross Gittell

“It was important to give students information that would allow them to explore their career options for after graduation and see how they could get there through our academic programs, and to do this at the start of their college coursework rather than as they were about to graduate and look for their first job, which is when many career-services resources typically kick in,” said Dr. Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.

To help make this vision a reality, CCSNH is implementing Career Coach, a mobile-friendly, web-based tool from Lightcast. Career Coach enables students to start with strengths-based career exploration and then identify the programs at their college that can set them on a path to accomplish their professional goals. As students navigate Career Coach, they are presented with key labor market data specific to their region, including wages, job growth, in-demand skills, and live job postings from local employers.

Web Developer career overview on Great Bay Community College’s Career Coach site

A statewide solution

As part of the system-wide implementation, each of the state’s seven community colleges received its own Career Coach website that matches their unique colors and branding. Each site displays labor market data specific to their service area and includes links to the host college’s program pages. Sharing the same core software also means that students across the state benefit from a consistent and familiar interface, regardless of which college’s site they visit. CCSNH is also pairing Career Coach with their enrollment and academic planning solution from EAB, leveraging the unique strengths of both platforms to provide students a comprehensive solution—from career exploration to course registration.

Career Coach in the classroom

Integration of Career Coach at the colleges was led by faculty and informed by their insights from years of working closely with students. To help students proactively engage with these new resources, implementation teams at the colleges are encouraging academic changes that bring Career Coach into the classroom. For example, several New Hampshire community colleges have adopted an innovative first-year course called “Ethnography of Work” (EoW), originally developed by Guttman Community College in NYC. The course equips students to apply the principles of ethnography in their exploration of workplaces and future careers.

Career Coach is integrated into week three of the curriculum, enabling students to spend focused time in class researching careers and identifying which ones are a good fit for them. “Course instructors have noted how this resource really adds to the students’ learning by helping them align their choice of major with the exploration and discussion that takes place in that first semester course,” said Dr. Gittell.

This in-class exercise and accompanying faculty mentorship are supplemented by visits to area businesses. The off-campus trips give students an opportunity to connect with local employers and experience a variety of work environments firsthand. The result is a strong academic foundation that links coursework to practical career information—and earns students transferable social science credits along the way.

Nashua Community College – Liberal Arts Pathway

A promising start

So far, the results have been encouraging. According to Gittell, students enrolled in Ethnography of Work at NH’s community colleges have a 33% higher retention rate compared to first and second-semester students who do not participate in the course. They’ve also found that EoW students are over 50% more likely to narrow their academic focus by moving from undeclared status, or a broad meta-major like liberal arts, to a more precise major such as history or math. Longer term, the colleges also plan to use alumni labor market outcomes to measure the impact of this strategy on post-college success.

Recently, CCSNH and Career Coach were also featured in the “College, On Purpose” report released by Complete College America. The report highlights best practices for implementing a “Purpose First” strategy designed to help students make informed, early decisions about academic and career goals, thereby boosting chances of retention, on-time completion, and overall success. Page 25 of the report cites New Hampshire’s integration of Career Coach and the EoW course as a prime example of how colleges can support incoming students in the crucial career exploration phase of their journey.

Excerpt from “College, On Purpose” –

Plans for the future

Building on their early success, the New Hampshire system is already planning new ways to leverage Career Coach in the classroom and in the community. For example, at least one CCSNH institution, Nashua Community College, plans to integrate Career Coach into a core English composition course. The idea is modeled on work done by the University of Hawaii system, a fellow CCA member. In the course, students would be challenged to explore and define their career goals with the help of Career Coach, and then articulate those goals through writing assignments.

The Community College System also continues to work with the state’s department of education, encouraging high school counselors to take advantage of this resource as they help students explore opportunities to continue learning and working in their state and communities. The goal is to facilitate early and broad adoption of tools like Career Coach that can help create a culture of purpose throughout New Hampshire’s education system—leading to higher completion rates, better career outcomes, and stronger communities for generations to come.

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