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CORPORATE CAREER FUNNELING

Career Funneling page images edited by Ryan Cieslikowski

RESEARCH SHOWS THAT ALMOST AS SOON AS FRESHMEN ARRIVE AT "ELITE" UNIVERSITIES, THEY ARE FUNNELED INTO THE ARMS OF
BIG TECH, FINANCE, AND CONSULTING FIRMS.

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THIS CORPORATE CAREER FUNNELING STIFLES 
STUDENT CREATIVITY
AND DIVERTS
TALENTED YOUNG LEADERS AWAY FROM CAREERS IN
PUBLIC SERVICE.

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FACED WITH RISING INEQUALITY AND THE CLIMATE CRISIS
 STUDENTS KNOW 
SOMETHING IS WRONG.

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OUR ORGANIZING CENTERS 
RESEARCH AND EXPERIENCE
TO HELP STUDENTS CLARIFY THEIR DISCONTENT AND
TRANSFORM IT INTO ACTION.

 The Problem. 

By their stated missions, elite colleges and universities aim to create the next generation of leaders who will work to advance the common good. For example, Amherst College aims to educate students to “engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.” Yale is similarly committed to “improving the world today” and Stanford’s vision is to promote “the welfare of people everywhere.” The reality could hardly be more different. 

 

Some contributions to research aside, most elite colleges and universities serve principally as funnels into management consulting, finance, and tech. At Harvard, for example, 63 percent of the Class of 2020 who entered the workforce after graduation joined one of these three sectors. By contrast, merely 12 percent went into social impact work, which we define as health, public service, government, and education.

 

Colleges often claim that these outcomes are inevitable and reflect strong predispositions on the part of their students. However, research by one of our board members, the sociologist Amy Binder, shows that almost no students enter college with the goal of becoming a management consultant or investment banker. To the contrary, most students have only vague plans for their future and are naive about their options. Many have ambitious visions to change the world.

Working in concert with universities, employers in banking, consulting, and big-tech sell students on a pathway to an elite lifestyle. At the heart of the strategy is what the sociologist Lauren Rivera calls “the baller lifestyle.” Recruiters host receptions at the fanciest hotels, dinners at the best restaurants, and fly interviewees to big cities where they stay in top hotels. Those who make it through the winnowing process and receive a summer internship are lavished with extravagant meals and golf outings. For the wealthiest students, the courtship recapitulates many of the experiences and mechanisms that carried them to elite colleges in the first place. For the rest, it’s a seduction into the upper-class lifestyle. The aim is to convince impressionable students that the baller lifestyle is what they want and deserve.

  

Compounding the problem is the rise of formal partnerships between universities and corporate firms that explicitly commodify students' attention. These so-called “corporate partnership programs” effectively function as on-campus headhunting agencies. For an annual fee, they allow a company to outsource its hiring work to the career services office. More than half of the schools in the invitation-only Association of American Universities have formal CPPs. Many of those that don’t have CPPs offer other arrangements like “platinum membership,” whereby prospective employers get the choicest tables at career fairs, curated email lists, and assistance setting up personal interviews. To echo Professor Amy Binder, universities are selling their students to the highest bidder.

But there’s hope. And it is radiating from the student bodies of these universities. Research conducted by our own Ryan Cieslikowski shows that students are not content with the degree to which they and their peers are funneled into jobs in the corporate superstructure. His master's thesis uncovered widespread discontent with career funneling among Stanford undergraduates.

 

Class Action aims to redirect that discontent into student action so that our most powerful universities can be beacons of social progress. 

 

Career funneling page image 2 edited by Ryan Cieslikowski

 The Solution. 

"And unless the graduates of this college and other colleges like it who are given a running start in life--unless they are willing to put back into our society, those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion--unless they are willing to put those qualities back into the service of the Great Republic, then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible."

- President John F. Kennedy at Amherst College. This was his last speech.

  

We've got good news. Most universities don't want to be known as funnels into the corporate world, career center staff have the best interest of their students in mind, and most importantly, students are ready to act.

 

The conditions are ripe for change and our experience tells us that student organizing is the perfect avenue. Within one and a half years of organizing at Amherst College, our very own Mason Quintero and his team won an annual investment from their university of $400,000 (by our estimates) to be put toward anti-career funneling initiatives. 

We are bringing the Amherst model to other schools and encouraging students to innovate on it. In doing so, we are decreasing the power of big tech, finance, and consulting companies to leech student creativity and divert talent away from other sectors.

 

Here's how it works:

 

1. We are building relationships with existing student organizations and helping to build new organizations to advocate for an end to corporate career funneling. Mason's organizing started with a dinner table conversation between 2 friends and grew into a movement on campus. Class Action is bringing that same conversation to elite schools across the country. 

 

2. Connecting student leaders so they can share tactics, ideas, and strategies and coordinate their actions. As we build capacity on campuses across the country, students are innovating on existing tactics and working together to disrupt the national status quo. 

 

3. Disseminating knowledge from our board of advisors who are leading national voices. These experts include Professor Amy Binder at Johns Hopkins and the former Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Nick Zeppos. Who better to advise organizers than the national expert on career funneling and the former head of a major university?

 

4. Coaching on student activism, drawing from our experience as student organizers and our training as community organizers. Organizing is not always intuitive but with a little coaching and care, it is accessible to anyone. 

 

Organizations are lobbying administrators and faculty, working with staff at career centers, creating alumni groups to protest their alma mater, and organizing direct actions on campus. And we're just getting started.  

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