AuthorColarusso, Laura
PositionBunker Hill Community College in Boston, Massachusetts


Three weeks after Pam Eddinger arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in July 2013 to take over as president of Bunker Hill Community College, she found herself in a meeting with Bill Swanson, the then chairman and chief executive officer of Raytheon. At the time, it struck Eddinger that this was the only meeting that her predecessor, Mary Fifield, insisted on attending during the transition. There was a good reason for that. Swanson was the rare corporate leader who had gone to a community college, having spent two years at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo before transferring to California Polytechnic and graduating with a degree in engineering. He was, consequently, someone who believed in the power of two-year institutions to give students from diverse backgrounds a strong educational foundation and the skills they need to be prepared to enter the workforce.

During the meeting, Swanson and Eddinger discussed continuing the project he and Fifield--along with a handful of other Boston-area chief executives--had begun 18 months earlier. Called Learn and Earn, the program provided paid internships for Bunker Hill students at Raytheon, Bank of America, and other large corporations. The idea was to make Massachusetts's economy more competitive and give the students, most of whom came from lower-income backgrounds, access to local companies that typically recruit from elite schools. Swanson and the other business leaders had studied "co-ops" at places like Northeastern University, where undergraduates spend three or six months doing paid work for employers in jobs that align with their course work--and often receive full-time job offers from those employers after graduation. "We saw that the ability to learn in the classroom and then get practical experience was a very powerful combination," Swanson told me. "When you get that link--when you're working and you're getting an education--the education becomes more valuable to you because you see the applicability to your job."

By the time Eddinger got to campus, Learn and Earn was gaining momentum and a handful of students had already gone on to land positions with the companies they interned for. During her meeting with Swanson, Eddinger promised to double the size of the program to signal her support for it. At the time, roughly 30 students a year were participating. It took until 2019, when the college added two staff members to coordinate the internships, for the number to increase to 60. But the lag wasn't just a personnel issue. Administrators had set up an arduous screening process that sometimes included up to four interviews before a student would be placed with an employer. "We were so careful about wanting to send students who would succeed out in the field," Eddinger said. "What that ended up [being] was a barrier." They also began hearing that students of color and female students were having trouble accessing the program. Internal numbers showed that males were overrepresented and women and people of color were underrepresented.

After seeing the data and talking with students, Eddinger felt they needed to change the way they were doing things. Over the next two years, she and her team retooled Learn and Earn and made the program more accessible to women and people of color. How they managed to do so is an important story--especially now, as America's often dysfunctional college-to-job pipeline is gaining attention from policy makers on both sides of the aisle.

Eddinger didn't need much convincing to support Learn and Earn. The program, she thought, wasn't just a way to teach basic career literacy skills like how to craft a cover letter, write a professional email, or divvy up tasks on a team, though that was important. It was also a bridge connecting the "last mile" between college and employment--the steps that are necessary for getting a job but don't "automatically appear for everyone," as Eddinger put it.

Solutions to getting students, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, through that "last mile" have proved elusive on a system-wide scale. The issue lives in a policy gray area, making it easy for the two main...

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