Cultivating Connections

A Framework for Building, Strengthening, and Mobilizing Students’ Social Capital

Who helped you get to where you are now? How have you helped others get to where they are?

Social capital—or, simply put, “who we know”—can unlock and open doors to economic and career success for all learners. But how can schools, districts, and communities actively support students in recognizing the value of their existing relationships, expanding their connections,  and leveraging their networks to open up new educational and career opportunities?

Why Social Capital Matters

Social capital—or, simply put, “who we know”—can unlock doors to new opportunities. When embedded within educational pathways, social capital tools and strategies can ensure students are better connected to key individuals who can help them understand their postsecondary and career options, prepare for the requirements and expectations of their chosen occupation, and begin to build a strong occupational identity.

Social capital—or, simply put, ‘who we know’—can unlock and open doors to economic and career success for all learners.

Hear What Social Capital Means to Leaders in the Field

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Claudia MartinezSan Diego State University

Expanding and mobilizing social capital is most imperative for students of backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in high-wage, high-demand fields like healthcare and information technology. Research shows that weak ties—or one’s acquaintances—are the most helpful for connecting people to new job opportunities (Source: Harvard Business Review), as the diversity and breadth of one’s network increases access to different information, resources, and support.

Without direct, even if loose, connections to people in industries that provide a family-sustaining wage, the likelihood of a person finding their way to these jobs diminishes. Yet, research by the Strada Education Foundation reveals that just half of college seniors feel confident in their ability to network with alumni or professionals to make career connections. Untapped opportunities to build social capital in occupations or fields of interest can leave some students a step behind as they begin their careers.

Infographic on Social Capital StatsInfographic on Social Capital StatsInfographic on Social Capital Stats(Source: CNBC WORK; LinkedIn)

Addressing inequities in economic opportunity requires addressing network inequities — and that work must start long before a student enters the workforce. Few education systems identify social capital development as a critical component in their college and career preparation priorities despite the fact that expanding students’ networks and giving students the tools, confidence, and know-how to leverage their relationships can increase their access to new information, resources, and opportunities. Regrettably, this is too often left to chance. As they work to prepare students for college and career, education systems can more intentionally work to help students build and leverage their connections.

How can communities more intentionally bring social capital to the forefront in their work to prepare students for college and career? On this website, you’ll find a framework for how to more purposefully integrate social capital development into pathways and help students develop the skills, confidence, and agency to leverage existing relationships and build new connections in pursuit of their educational and professional aspirations. The framework contains three main phases; this website offers action steps, tools and resources, and examples from the field within each phase.

Through generous philanthropic support, Education Strategy Group has worked with communities across the U.S. as they’ve incorporated social capital development strategies into their college and career pathways, in areas like work-based learning, college and career advising, and classroom learning. These include:

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Through two years of work with these ten different communities, Education Strategy Group has gained valuable insight into how educational and community leaders can take action to make social capital access, development, and activation more equitable for their students.

Continue to Phase 1: Lay the FoundationLearn How