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In Hot Pursuit: Closing the Enrollment Gap Feature Story

November 27, 2018

Considering that one out of every five community college students in the nation attends a California community college, it’s hard to believe that nearly 70% of students who apply fail to enroll. It’s a surprising number, and one that Gustavo Chamorro, Regional Consortium Chair for the Orange County Region, is trying to address via the new, virtual student support service, PursuitWise.

PursuitWise seeks to improve enrollment outcomes by providing both career guidance and trained counselors to help prospective students navigate the enrollment process and more successfully connect with the Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways that most interest them.

The brainchild of Jim Caldwell, Sector Navigator of the Energy Construction and Utilities Industry (ECU), PursuitWise was originally imagined as a concierge-like service that would help students through the often complex California community college enrollment process.

Serena Santillanes, 20-year veteran in the career counseling profession and Principal of PursuitWise explains its purpose like this: “There are many resources that serve the career placement needs of students during and at the end of their educational journeys, but none that help students during pre-enrollment. The fact that so many students fail to enroll, suggests that they need something to bridge the gap between understanding what they want to do and understanding how they actually go about doing that. PursuitWise does this.”

Initially developed as a pilot program for the ECU sector, PursuitWise was recently expanded into a multi-sector service that helps students identify which industry sectors their interests are best aligned with; what possible career pathways are available to them; and which Orange County community colleges have programs that fit those pathways. Newly added sectors include Business & Entrepreneurship, Health, Retail, Hospitality, & Tourism, Information & Communication Technologies & Digital Media, and Advanced Transportation & Logistics.

First-time users of PursuitWise will find that the service has two main components. The first is the “CareerCompass,” a battery of picture-based assessment tools that measure career and workforce interests. These assessments are customized to align with key industries and occupations and the many Career Education programs offered at Orange County’s community colleges.

“We started by trying to understand the distinctions between different occupations and how those distinctions relate to the different interests of individual workers,” explains Anna Campbell, co-founder of Applied Learning Science and Principal at PursuitWise.  “The best part: the assessments take only minutes to complete!”

While there are hundreds of occupational assessments on the market, the CareerCompass is different because it focuses on matching prospective students to in-demand occupations. To accomplish this, the PursuitWise team leveraged a comprehensive research approach that triangulated labor market data with the training programs offered in the Orange County Community College region. The result—a suite of industry assessments that help prospective students explore their career preferences and select an educational pathway that leads to an in-demand job.

As unique as this is, what makes PursuitWise truly special is that after completing an assessment, students have access to Master’s degree-level college and career counselors who are available to provide further clarification, career guidance, and/or enrollment planning. These bilingual counselors, called Career Navigators, are available online or by phone, and have extensive experience working in California community colleges.

“Our underlying counseling philosophy is to ‘meet students where they are,’” explains Christina Sundermeier, a career counselor and the Navigator service coordinator at PursuitWise. “The assessment process provides both the Career Navigator and the prospective student a place to start in terms of their career exploration process. Our Navigator’s understand that whether they’re traditional students, career changers, or the first in their families to attend, everyone has different types of concerns because attending college is a big commitment.”

After their initial conversations, Career Navigators follow up with prospective students to see how they are doing and to make sure new concerns are addressed as they arise. “As wonderful as technology is, sometimes you just need a ‘human touch,’” says Santillanes. “That’s what makes this a ‘signature experience,’ as we like to say.”

In addition to helping address the “failure to enroll” problem that community colleges face, Sundermeier also believes pre-enrollment support will have a positive impact on student completion rates.

“We want students to make well-informed decisions as they prepare for higher education,” says Sundermeier. “Getting students into programs that speak to their interests and values means that they’ll be more motivated to succeed in those programs and more likely to finish them. Education can be powerfully transformative, and we want to help as many students as possible have access. That’s why all of us wake up and do what we do here.”

College and high school faculty and staff, as well as interested students are invited to visit the newly redesigned PursuitWise.com to start putting this powerful service to work.