Metropolitan State University

Translating the University Experience Into Career Readiness

To ensure the career success of its students, this university has infused a career readiness initiative into all aspects of this university, from coursework and internships to professional connections and leadership.

Metropolitan State University (Metro State) established the Career Readiness Project to foster a culture of career development and cross-disciplinary collaboration grounded in social justice that aims to eliminate barriers to retention while promoting the career success of its graduates. As such, this program seeks to elevate individuals from traditionally marginalized communities, dismantle racism, and create more inclusive Minnesota communities and regions of shared regional prosperity. Metro State sees career education as the clear connection between academic achievement and closing educational and economic opportunity gaps. With conventional approaches to career development, too many students fall through the cracks—not utilizing services to the level they need or at all.

The Career Readiness Project offers a unique approach and framework that integrates career readiness into the classroom by aligning course learning outcomes with 10 identified career competencies that employers are seeking in Minnesota. Metro State University adopted a list of these top career competencies that provide staff and faculty members and students with a shared language that they can use when helping students pursue their career goals. By intentionally infusing these competencies into curriculum coursework and co-curriculum activities, Metro State aims to cultivate a diverse workforce.

The backbone of Metro State University’s Career Readiness Project is the 10 career competencies written in employer parlance that graduates can use when directing, developing, and describing their skill sets. Faculty members learn through professional development opportunities about how their course-learning outcomes align with the university’s competencies but are not asked to modify their curricula. Instead, they are asked to highlight for students one or two of the competencies on the list that already align with their course curriculum and help students see how what they are learning contributes to their career development. The competencies for Metro State’s Career Readiness Project are:

  • Professional communication
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving 
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Leadership and followership
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Cultural agility, inclusion, and anti-racism
  • Community engagement 
  • Digital literacy
  • Continuous learning and career management

As the students advance toward graduation, they can easily discern with clarity and confidence how their courses helped develop their range of skills and strengths through these benchmarks.

This inclusive cross-curricular framework provides a way for faculty, advisors, and students to reflect on how coursework, internships, advising discussions, admissions processes, professional connections, student life, and leadership—in short, the entire university experience—prepare students for their professional journeys.

Before the Career Readiness Project, Metro State, a commuter university in Saint Paul, relied on its career services office to transition graduates into their particular professions. The career services staff worked diligently to encourage students to interact with their services, attend their events, and schedule one-on-one appointments. Despite their efforts, the staff realized they were serving only a fraction of the university’s student population, and they were seeing graduates return six months or a year later, struggling to find employment.

Metro State’s student persistence rates further confounded this problematic situation. The university has a diverse student population—51% are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC); 56% are first-generation students; and the average age is 30—with a high rate of nearly 97% of students transferring to Metro State to finish their degree-seeking journey. University success is reflected in student persistence rates, with all groups averaging over 70% and most BIPOC cohorts at or above parity with the white comparison group, according to Metro State data from 2023.

Metro State came to understand that systemic racial inequities continue to worsen educational and economic opportunity gaps in Minnesota and the career services staff decided to take a more assertive approach. In response to this crisis, the career services team convened a small cross-functional team of employers, alumni, faculty, and students, as well as a faculty work group and a local employer work group. The cross-functional team wrote the Career Readiness Project equity statement and discovered the “why” behind the effort: They were building a new equity-minded model for helping Metro State students on their career journeys. The Career Readiness Project advances an innovative mindset and experience building education to retain students who eventually graduate into careers that close the workforce gap in the Twin Cities region with 21st century leaders.

The Methodology

In a nutshell, the Career Readiness Project at Metro State is a more effective, scalable, equity-minded approach to providing career support and career integration to students. In addition to the option of students going to the university’s career center to flesh out their career path, students receive career readiness activities through their faculty.

The Career Readiness Project is entirely faculty-led with a currently part-time faculty director, faculty work group, and faculty leadership team.

Since 2017, the Metro State team has been working collaboratively with the staff of the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts, who have been national pioneers in the work. While the Metro team has learned a lot from their collaboration with the University of Minnesota, it was necessary to adapt the techniques to the unique needs of Metro State’s highly diverse, majority first-generation and low-income students.

The Impact

Metro State University alumni input played a role in developing the Career Readiness Project. After participating in the National Alumni Career Mobility survey in 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023—with participation in 2024 planned, as well—Metro State learned the following:

  • The students’ top three motivations for obtaining a degree were career success (65%), financial gain (59%), and due to a requirement for their chosen field (42%).
    • What does this mean: The students came to Metro State University primarily to improve their career options. The university can harness the power of these motivations by integrating Career Readiness into curricular and co–curricular experiences.
  • Only 16% of survey respondents saw the university as investing in their careers.
    • What does this mean: Metro State needs to do an even better job demonstrating to its students that the university is thinking about their careers right along with them.
  • Only 35% of survey respondents who received career advice found it helpful. They received career advice most often from faculty members and academic advisors.
    • What does this mean: Faculty members and academic advisors are the ones whom students see the most often and they are doing a great job providing helpful career advice. This also indicates an opportunity to increase resources to these individuals to ensure more students receive helpful career advice.

The results of this survey confirmed that students are seeking to improve their work lives, further fueling Metro State’s commitment to the Career Readiness Project.

Metro State’s Career Readiness Project has also received an enthusiastic response from faculty members who believe in the project’s potential and want to be a part of career readiness for students and is well-supported by the president, provost, and vice president of student success. Faculty members are building the project’s career competencies into their courses. For example, some faculty from Metro State’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, have incorporated the career competencies in their syllabi and have demonstrated their commitment to student career development by incorporating at least one of the career competencies into their learning outcomes for each class. Another group of faculty has volunteered to do a pre- and post-test in their classes to get a more in-depth understanding of how students are mastering the career competencies.

The potential impact for Metro State students cannot be overstated. As the university develops a clearer vision of its students’ career trajectories through its Career Readiness Project, it anticipates year-over-year retention rates increasing. While retention and graduation are critical milestones, Metro State recognizes their additional significance in allowing the university to fulfill the full promise of higher education: increasing the employment rate of its graduates so they can improve their economic lives and social mobility. It will also represent significant effort to extend its equity and anti-racism work into employment, helping to close the employment-opportunity gaps for its BIPOC students, who have historically reported lower rates of related employment one year after graduation. Achieving this goal would also enable Metro State to elevate its social mobility ranking because of its demonstrated effectiveness at helping graduates secure good jobs with family-sustaining wages where they can thrive professionally.

Key Takeaways

A program like the Career Readiness Project could induce a culture shift as postsecondary education institutions take a critical transformative approach to what career development should look like. This new model will take time for some people to become accustomed to and will take time to produce substantial results, but the program is worth it. Critical to this program’s success is helping college or university leadership understand that career readiness is core for students seeking a degree and critical to achieving their higher education mission. Securing the buy-in and support of faculty members is essential to pedagogical change and a culture shift. Through persistence and patience, a college or university can improve the social mobility of its graduates.

“I’m so proud of the Career Readiness Project, and I think the impact is going to be so significant. Seventy percent of our students come from the groups that have so often been underrepresented in higher education but also who face systemic racism in the workplace. And I think one of the really great things that Bill Baldus, director of the Career Center, is doing through this project is engaging the employers because even as we prepare the students for the workplace, if the employers aren’t prepared for the students that they’re getting and are not understanding them, that’s not going to work. We already do a good job at Metro State of ensuring social and economic mobility for our students, but if we are successful in this intentional Career Readiness Project, we will be improving the lives of students and their families. And that, of course, carries through generations.”

Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Arthur, president, Metro State University, Saint Paul, Minnesota

“The focus is on decreasing or removing the economic and educational opportunity gaps for our students. I think that’s the history of Metro State and why many people choose to work here. It’s really that focus. So, the Career Readiness Project is one way of doing that and helping support our students in their success, not just for their careers, but for their lives.”

Dr. Monica Roth Day, faculty director of the Career Readiness Project, Metro State University, Saint Paul, Minnesota

“Minnesota is facing a significant workforce shortage in the near future, and yet we have the worst educational gaps, the worst employment gaps, the worst wealth-building gaps in the country. So, I think what the Career Readiness Project will do is close those gaps but also really help Minnesota live up to the promise of what it sees itself as a state. If our students, the maturing population, which is much more diverse than Minnesota has traditionally seen, if they don’t get educated, if they don’t know how to make their way into a career pathway, then our employers—and we have 16 Fortune 500 companies here—they’re not going to stay in the state because they won’t have the workforce. So, I see the Career Readiness Project benefiting Minnesota from the individual level to the level of the economic prosperity of our state.”

Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Arthur, president, Metro State University, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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