Cultivating Connections: New Study Explores Social Capital Advances Educational and Career Pathways

by Jean Rhodes

We all know that social capital (i.e., the resources embedded in your social networks and relationships) is critical to educational and career success. And, in their new report, the Education Strategy Group (ESG) describes the current landscape of social capital development in education-to-workforce pathways across the United States. The report highlights the importance of equipping young people with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to strengthen and expand their social networks, which can ultimately help them achieve their postsecondary and career goals. This report provides a helpful overview of the social capital work already underway across national, state, and local-level education organizations.

Method

ESG conducted background research, surveys, and interviews to gather data. The survey was  distributed to 63  national and community-based organizations, state education agencies (SEAs), and local school districts to establish a baseline for how SEAs prioritize social capital in their work. They also conducted more than a dozen interviews with key leaders in the field to gain deeper insights into the successes, challenges, and potential for scaling and accelerating the integration of social capital into educational pathways.

Results

Here are some key findings:

1. Consistent social capital terminology, operationalization of key concepts, and organizational confidence is lacking across the country, suggesting that field is still at an early stage of implementation.

2. Measuring social capital as a student outcome is a significant challenge, making it difficult to establish it as a core driver of programmatic efforts and funding opportunities.

3. Virtual tools and platforms may help extend and scale social capital building opportunities for students, although some organizations express hesitation about their widespread use. [Side note: MentorPRO Academy offers evidence-based training in social capital, Connected Futures and the MentorPRO platform facilitates relationship development and connections to bridging capital. Also, our partnerships with COE and Step Up are demonstrating the effectiveness of this approach].

4. Many education leaders believe that integrating social capital into existing systems and frameworks is one of the most effective ways for social capital work to scale.

Reflections

A coordinated and systematic approach, consistent terminology and measurement, integration with existing systems, leveraging technology and evidence-based training, and collaboration among diverse stakeholders will help to  ensure that social capital development becomes a central component of pathways efforts.

Read the full report

Reference: Education Strategy Group. (2024). Cultivating connections: The current state of social capital in college and career pathways.