Social capital — connections between people that help communities function and grow — can be nebulous and ill-defined. But gaining it is crucial for students and graduates trying to navigate the complex, often-unwritten rules governing colleges and the professional world, according to JFF.

Now, the nonprofit has released a social capital framework for colleges looking to support Black students. The guide suggests how to improve institutional policy, from student recruitment to alumni relations. It also heavily emphasizes collaboration between colleges and employers.

Many colleges have acknowledged and worked to improve graduation rate gaps between Black and White learners. Among Black students who started at public four-year colleges in 2016, just over half graduated in six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, compared to nearly three-quarters of their White peers who graduated in that span of time.

But while improving degree attainment is important, it alone isn’t enough to set Black students on a path to success, according to Collins, who leads JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity.

“It’s really important that Black learners understand that the workforce isn’t just about having skills and competencies,” he said. “It is about who knows that you have those skills and competencies.”

The framework recommends colleges build and strengthen their career services offices, including by developing relationships with other departments and externally.

Career services should work with academic advisers and regional employers to provide students with professional connections and an understanding of where their skills will be most valuable in the labor market, the guide says.

At the same time, advisers can’t just focus on getting students to a degree, Collins said. People on the academic side also need to talk with students about their employment options post graduation. To hear him tell it, he initially graduated with an undergraduate English degree, a lot of books, zero social capital and little idea of how to get a job in his field.

Read the full article about social mobility for college students of color by Laura Spitalniak at Higher Education Dive.