More than 30,000 North Carolina K-12 students are using career coaches to navigate education options. Here’s why that’s great news.

More than 30,000 North Carolina K-12 students are using career coaches to navigate education options. Here’s why that’s great news.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023 - 9:00am

North Carolina career coaches served more than 30,000 K-12 students in the 2022-23 academic year, up 51 percent from the 2021-22 academic year. 

The Career Coach Program was established in 2015 as a partnership between community colleges and local boards of education across the state, placing career coaches in high schools to assist students with determining career goals and identifying educational pathways.  

Sarah West, Vice Chair of the Programs and Student Success Committee for the State Board of Community Colleges, reported during an Aug. 18 State Board meeting that during the 2022-23 academic year, 100 career coaches at 46 community colleges served 30,256 students at 64 schools. That number is up from 19,930 at 57 schools in the 2021-22 academic year. 

The General Assembly has shown commitment to the program since its inception, increasing their support from $500,000 in 2015 to $5.6 million in 2022. 

Students meet one-on-one with career coaches to discuss their career interests, identify opportunities for deeper exploration and immersion, and develop a guided pathway towards appropriate course selection related to the student’s career interest. Career coaches also engage with the local workforce by meeting with local business leaders and chambers of commerce. 

“We truly appreciate the partnership with our secondary education colleagues as we all strive to provide great career exploration opportunities for our students. Building on that partnership, the Career Coach Program expansion into every high school across the state is our dream,” said Dr. J.W. Kelley, Associate Vice President of Student Services at the North Carlina Community College System. “When students have access to both career coaches and high school counselors, they are more engaged in personally relevant courses leading to fulfill their career dreams.”  
Morgan Smith, Career Coach at James Sprunt Community College serving Duplin County, said career coaching is all about celebrating small wins. 
“Most students are not going to figure out what they want to do with their life after two or three counseling sessions. The decision usually stems from taking a class or spending time in their field of interest,” she said. “It’s a small win when students change their minds after taking a class or job shadowing because that one encounter with what seemed to be a promising career choice saved them from making a wrong decision. I cannot decide for them, but I can arrange purposeful steps for them to take toward their ultimate decision.”  

Four of Smith’s students recently completed job shadowing. For three of the students, the experience solidified their career choice and for one student, it directed them down a different path, which Smith said is even better.  
“I personally love the job shadowing piece of the career exploration journey. Real-world experience is just as important, if not more important, than the post-secondary education you receive,” she said. 
The committee also noted the established dollar-for-dollar match requirement for Tier 2 and Tier 3 counties could be reviewed for improvement, especially for rural, smaller colleges. 

West reported the NC Career Coach Program is successfully helping high school students to choose a viable career path. There is broad deployment and strong engagement with coaching students as evidenced by student enrollment in both high school and community college pathways.  

“Our NC Career Coaches are dedicated, amazing individuals that truly place the student first and strive to assist them on their career journey,” said Jennifer McLean, Associate Director of Student Support Services at the North Carolina Community College System. “The creativity in outreach and engagement provided by staff are why this program continues to be a shining star in the community college system. I am overwhelmed by what has been accomplished in the past year and look forward to new highlights from our new cohort.” 

five students smiling