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(Re)Defining the Goal with Purpose-Driven Education

The process of occupational exploration, choosing a college major, and one’s initial career identification is too frequently haphazard and unintentional. Most teens have no ideas what they plan to do with their life after 12th grade. I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to do, except continue to go to school! As a community college Vice President, I even hear from my college graduates - as recent as this spring - that they still have no idea what they will do after transferring, or what they plan to do after earning their 4-year degree. Our current educational system has created widespread confusion. This confusion then translates into high anxiety and directionless professional meandering. Students end up taking “the wrong courses” while in college, and many change their major an exorbitant number of times, graduating with too many unnecessary units. The result is too frequently the phrase, “I’ll figure it out later.” Well, it’s later.

The time has come to transcend the way we speak to today’s students, and to evolve the very template and purpose of our education plans. They can no longer be a mere checklist to commencement. High school pathways and colleges need holistic orientations that encompass career planning as well as educational planning. One short personality test is insufficient. There needs to be a better way to build intrinsic motivation in today's students so that they pursue their post-secondary plans with intentionality, vigor, and in alignment with who they are. Thankfully, this is not unchartered territory. Evolving into a purpose-driven educational system is not hard. In fact, it’s already happening in pockets across America. There are a few very simple tactics and approaches already proven and vetted by other educators, to help all learners discover their purpose, on purpose.

For example, the Dream Catcher Program ( is one curriculum that bridges the gap between education and career by being laser-focused on helping students secure clarity in their purpose while increasing intrinsic motivation and self-worth. Other institutions such as Sinclair Community College have flipped the script and no longer focus on specific occupations (that are constantly changing), but instead focus on the professional development of the learner themselves. They even changed the name of their Career Center to a Professional Development Center as one outward illustration of this renewed focus on the holistic learner.

Education is often organized by courses focused on graduation. But what if education was organized around learners focused on fulfilling their purpose? I have recently researched the Japanese philosophy of ikigai and I believe it could have a profound impact on the way we advise students, the way we recruit for our courses, the way we market our pathways, and the way we think about career education. It’s time.

Listen to the full NCLA podcast interview with Kevin Fleming and Rachael Mann at

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