Helping Students Find Intentional Purpose

Guest Correspondence


The North Star strategy at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County is for all students to graduate with purpose prepared for their postsecondary future.

Our job is not finished when the student receives a high school diploma. We know that jobs today increasingly require graduates to acquire some level of specialized training, postsecondary credential, or workforce relevant certification, while also adopting a lifelong learning habit of acquiring skills and knowledge to empower them to adapt and prosper in future.

As the backbone organization for our Local College Access Network, we are examining how we can strengthen student readiness, access, affordability and completion to ensure students can successfully transition from high school and get “to and through” a technical school, community college, four-year university or military service.

We know that many factors influence this journey and students often take circuitous paths, and that’s okay. Yet, many do not successfully complete the courses they have chosen. As a community, we can help them do better.

It’s perplexing that we celebrate a nearly 90% high school graduation rate, yet we have only a 71% college-going rate, including technical schools, which is below the state average of 76%. And, according to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, only 11% of disadvantaged college students will earn a degree within six years of enrolling in college, compared to about 55% of their more advantaged peers. None of these percentages are glowing.

What does the phrase “graduate with purpose” really mean?

According to Stanford University’s Center on Adolescence, purpose is defined as “a forward-looking intention to accomplish goals that are meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.”

Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence Dr. Bill Damon further states: “The biggest problem growing up today is not actually stress; it’s meaninglessness.”

The center shares a growing body of evidence indicating that purpose is associated with academic achievement, vocational success, energy, resilience and psychological and physical health throughout the lifespan. Purpose can be found in family, work, faith and other important life missions.

The EFSC is embarking on a creative problem-solving exercise that incorporates design thinking to help us understand how we might better empower youth in our community to discover who they are (interests and aptitudes); identify goals; and implement action steps that enable them to achieve their postsecondary pathways that lead to satisfying careers so that they become contributing members of the community.

We anticipate this will be messy work, and we are up to the challenge. With the sobering statistics listed above, coupled with youth depression and anxiety rising at alarming rates, helping students to find their purpose actually could lead to them owning their futures and living lives of intentionality.

That’s the “sweet spot” where you arrive when you figure out what you’re good at, with what you love, and with what you care about.

Jennifer Vigne is president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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