Rich Kids Land Internships ‘Through Osmosis.’ Vulnerable Students Need More Help Planning a Career.

I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education covering innovation in and around academe. For more than two years, I’ve been curating this weekly Re:Learning newsletter. Now I’m using it to share my observations on the people and ideas reshaping the higher-education landscape. Here’s what’s on my mind this week:

A glam spotlight on college-to-career.

Need more evidence of the growing importance of career-planning services for college students? Consider the high profile given to the topic at an event in D.C. last week by Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher organization.

This was the fifth year the organization held its Beating the Odds Summit, a day of discussions and panel presentations designed to help minority, low-income, and first-generation college students hear from students just a little older than them on making the adjustment to the college environment. The students also heard from the former first lady herself, who took part in one of the panels along with Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame and La La Anthony, a TV star. (I confess I had never heard of her, but judging by the students’ squeals of delight, they certainly had.)

As in years past, those conversations were frank — and, in some cases, sobering. Hearing students right out of high school asking about how to handle racism they might encounter on campus, or how to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed and derailed by family challenges back home, reminded me how fragile the college opportunity remains for so many students, even after they’ve been accepted.

It’s that very fragility that prompted Eric W. Waldo, executive director of Reach Higher, to add a more explicit focus on career planning this year. “Our most vulnerable students,” he told me, don’t come to college equipped with knowledge on the importance of an internship, much less the connections to land one. That’s something many of their upper-income peers “get through osmosis.”

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