top of page

Making Careers a Central Part of a Student Success Ecosystem

AUTHOR: Betsy Newman, Ed.D.

Senior Vice President, Student Enrollment and Engagement (SEE)

Berklee College of Music

As college costs continue to rise and student debt increases, the pressure to improve student success outcomes like retention and graduation rates, career outcomes, and lifetime earnings are ever present. Innovative approaches to leading across the entire student life cycle – from recruitment to enrollment to graduation to careers – have emerged as a best practice. At Berklee, we’ve developed The Thrive Method for designing a student success ecosystem.

Students Desire to Thrive

How might we design a thriving educational ecosystem?

“See me thrive” was the theme that emerged when we asked what Berklee students needed and wanted most from us during their educational journey. We know that if our students thrive, our institutions thrive; and, if our institutions thrive, our students thrive. Each is reinforcing the other, like elements in an ecosystem. Our students come to our institutions to thrive. To reach their full potential. To succeed. This includes discovering and preparing for a purposeful, sustainable career. 

Yet, too often we organize ourselves and our work as a set of disconnected functions rather than reinforcing elements in an educational ecosystem designed for student success. At Berklee we tackled this challenge by reimagining how our organization could be designed for student success at every stage of the educational journey, from recruitment to enrollment to graduation to careers. Through experience design, our leadership team developed The Thrive Method with principles that:

  • put the student at the center of everything we do

  • realign our departments and teams with the student life cycle

  • redefine the relationship between us, our partners, and the students we serve in order to break down silos that inhibit our ability to have a student-centered, success-focused mindset

Define a Vision and Philosophy for Thriving

How might we define a vision and philosophy for advancing student success? 

With these principles in hand, we started our own journey to define a vision and philosophy for advancing student success. The result, below, now guides every aspect of our work:

To know students well, to connect them to the right people and resources, and to launch them into the world prepared to fully realize their personal, creative and career potential is to SEE them as a whole person thriving on a unique journey of self-discovery, self-direction and self-actualization.

​​Try this.

Develop a one sentence statement to describe your career services organization’s vision and philosophy for advancing student success. 

Ask yourself. 

  • How do you know your students well enough to guide them on their career journey? 

  • How do you connect students to the right people and resources at the right times? 

  • How are you preparing students to launch their careers, and as a result, more fully realize their career potential? 

  • How are you helping students discover their purpose, direct their pathways, and actualize their career goals? 

  • How is your career services organization helping students thrive?

The Seven Principles of The Thrive Method 

How is career services a part of a student success ecosystem at your school?

The Thrive Method has seven principles that can guide the design of a student success ecosystem across the entire student lifecycle. Even if you don’t engage every principle, the prompts below can help you unlock new potential in your programs and strategies.

Principle 1. Students 

Who are we designing for?

Try this.

Take a moment to draw your institution as an educational ecosystem. Include all the central elements and display how they interact. Have others on your team, or colleagues, do the same. Have your students do it too. Compare. 

Ask yourself. 

What are the key elements in your educational ecosystem? Where are the students? Where is your career services organization? How do they interact, or not?

  • How do other elements interact with students and your career services organization? 

  • Who or what is thriving in this ecosystem? Who or what is not? Why?

  • What makes career services a stronger element in the ecosystem? A weaker element? 

If you could redesign the educational ecosystem to better serve your students, and their career development, how might you do it? Draw the ideal educational ecosystem at your institution and place career services where it can most thrive so your students can most thrive. 

Principle 2. Strategy

To achieve what goals?

Try this.

Review your institutional and career services organization’s strategic plan. 

Ask yourself. 

  • Does your institution’s strategic plan include goals to advance student success? To develop students and their careers? List the goals. Are the intentions clear?

  • Are the goals in the plan student-centered? Focused on careers? Identify examples.

  • In what ways is your career services organization advancing these goals? How do you know? 

Principle 3. Outcomes

To drive what results?

Try this.

Identify the outcomes that define career success at your institution. 

Ask yourself. 

  • What are the metrics that are used to define and measure career success outcomes – job placement rates? starting salary? happiness? what else? 

  • Where do these outcomes reside? Who are the owners?

  • How were these outcomes developed and by whom?  

  • In what ways do your career advising, education, and/or programs (i.e. career experiences) map to these outcomes and metrics?

  • How do these metrics align with what students most want? Your faculty? Your employers? Others? How do you know?

Principle 4. Lifecycle

When in the student journey?

Try this.

Draw the student journey. Include key milestones that reflect the beginning, middle, and end of the student experience including recruitment, commitment, matriculation, graduation, and careers. Map your most impactful career experiences to this student lifecycle. Have others on your team do the same. Have students map their most impactful career experiences to this student lifecycle. Compare.

Ask yourself. 

  • Where in the student lifecycle do these career experiences happen? 

  • Do they happen the most, or least, at the beginning, middle, or end of the student journey? Is this intentional? What are the causes for this distribution?

  • Where in the student lifecycle are more impactful career experiences most necessary? Why?

  • Are there career experiences that could be more impactful at a different stage of the student lifecycle than they are placed currently?

  • In what ways do your map(s) align with the student map(s)? How do they differ? 

  • What are the barriers to increasing the impact of career experiences at the beginning, middle or end of the student lifecycle? How might these be resolved?

Principle 5. Organization

How are you best organized?

Try this.

Take your student journey map(s). Select the high impact career experiences that were most frequently identified. List all the divisions, departments, functions, and people necessary for those career experience(s) to have the highest impact on student success. Then, organize these with the student lifecycle map. Have others on your team, including students, do the same activity. Compare.

Ask yourself. 

  • What are the most common divisions, departments, functions, and people listed?

  • What is the relationship between the career services organization and those areas or people identified? In what ways are the relationships strong? Where is there opportunity to do better? What’s contributing to this dynamic? 

  • Take a blank piece of paper. If you could design a new organization from scratch, how would you organize the divisions, departments, functions, and people to elevate the impact of these career experiences on student success? 

Principle 6. Mindset

To unify shared ways of working?

Try this.

Take the sketch of the new organization you created to elevate the impact of the career experiences you identified on student success. Imagine reorganization is not an option. Instead define what kind of mindset would best unify shared ways of working across those areas and people you identified. Have others on your team, including students, do the same activity. Compare.

Ask yourself. 

  • What are the most common characteristics in the mindsets you identified?

  • How can these characteristics be clustered into “mindset opportunity spaces”?

  • Review the “mindset opportunity spaces” identified. In what ways are they fostered by the career services organization? In what ways are they not? What is contributing to this dynamic?

  • Which of the “mindset opportunity spaces” has the highest potential to elevate the impact of career experiences on student success if it unified shared ways of working? 

  • How can this mindset be developed in more intentional ways? What actions can the career services organization take to get started?

Principle 7. Practices

To guide high impact practices?

Try this. 

You’ve just had a chance to put to practice The Thrive Method for designing a student success ecosystem with exercises that help you explore these principles – students, strategy, outcomes, lifecycle, organization, and mindset – and how they apply to your career services organization. Reflect on these exercises individually and as a team. Identify new insights and how they might guide high impact practices in the career services organization going forward. 

Ask yourself.

  • Will we put what we learned into practice? If yes, list the who, what, when, where, why. Take action. If no, why not?

Feel empowered to make careers a central part of a student success system at your institution by using The Thrive Method. The goal is to put into practice a vision and philosophy that empowers students to reach their full potential. SEE students thrive. SEE your career services organization thrive. SEE your institution thrive.



Dr. Betsy Newman is the Senior Vice President for Student Enrollment and Engagement at Berklee College of Music leading the divisions of external affairs; enrollment marketing and management; student affairs, diversity, and inclusion; student advising and success; and career strategy and services. She brings to her leadership at Berklee, and to other institutions prior including Babson College, deep expertise and research in student-centered organizational design. As an advocate for student success, Dr. Newman has led innovative change at the executive level through a reimagination of how functions, programs, services, and supports can be organized to better serve students and their pathways to success at every stage of their journey from prospective students to alumni.


bottom of page