Supporting Students’ Career Building

An Introduction to Turn Pro

Virtual coaching session
By Erick Alonzo, Francesca Ciaramella, Bennett Otten

A college education can be a critical step toward attaining economic mobility, in part because it can translate to higher earnings.[1] But there are differences in the benefits that accrue to Black, Hispanic/Latino, and White college graduates. At every level of educational attainment, including bachelor’s degrees, White workers are more likely than Black or Hispanic/Latino workers with the same qualifications to have better-quality jobs, and they have higher median wages.[2] In 2021, among 25- to 34-year-olds, earning gaps between racial/ethnic groups were most common at the bachelor’s or higher degree levels: Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders were higher for those who were Asian and White than for peers who were Hispanic, of two or more races, or Black.[3] While many of the causes of racial wage and income gaps are large, structural issues, connecting workers to jobs with wages that match their skills and experience may help start closing those gaps.[4]

Career-preparation programs are often presented as a solution to mitigate gaps in earnings by providing students with the skills and experience they need to connect with jobs that are stable and offer living wages. One such program is Turn Pro, launched by Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) in collaboration with partner universities in 2022 to help college students, particularly students of color, enter quality jobs immediately after graduation.[5] The Turn Pro program offers career-preparation services including one-on-one coaching, a professional playbook, and access to networking opportunities.

MLT commissioned MDRC to evaluate the Turn Pro program using a randomized controlled trial design. To the MDRC team’s knowledge, this is one of the first studies that will offer experimental evidence on the effects of coaching interventions in supporting predominantly students of color as they transition from college to a career.[6] This study will examine Turn Pro’s effects on students’ employment outcomes after graduation, as well as how the program operates at different types of universities and with different groups of students. It will provide valuable insights to the field on the types of job-preparation services that can be used to help college students—in particular Black, Native, and Hispanic/Latino students—land high-quality jobs after graduation.

The Turn Pro Model

Turn Pro’s components are summarized in Figure 1. It is worth noting that the coaching is designed to be delivered by paid, professional coaches with industry experience, who build relationships with students and keep students accountable to their goals as they develop clarity about what those goals are and begin to build their careers.

Figure 1. Turn Pro Program Model

One-on-one coaching to help students reach their career and professional goals. Topics include time management, internship-application strategies and recruitment paths, mock interviews, and interview, preparation. Coaching requires a monthly meeting and continues until three to six months after graduation. Coaching after graduation includes check-ins about the job, the worker’s goals, and projects the worker is interested in.

A set of prescribed, tailored action items—including résumé editing, web-based career modules, and targeted internship searches—to ensure students are ready for interviews, land quality jobs that have a path to good careers, and have the tools needed to advance over time. Based on student goals and needs, coaches develop a list of required and recommended assignments.

Professional networking to connect students with peers, alumni, employer partners, and business leaders who can serve as mentors and identify employment opportunities and career paths. Networking is self-directed and Turn Pro teaches students how to navigate it.

SOURCES: MLT Turn Pro website; discussions with MLT Turn Pro staff members.

Figure 2 shows how the program components are meant to affect the targeted outcomes. The immediate results (or “outputs”) of the Turn Pro program activities are to help students develop a defined career “road map” and goals, and develop more confidence and skills for the job search process. Students also gain work experience through an internship and expand their networks of professional contacts, which ultimately are theorized to result in higher-quality employment and higher earnings, among other outcomes.

Figure 2: Turn Pro Program Logic Model

Activities and services, outputs, and outcomes of the Turn Pro Logic Model

SOURCES: MLT Turn Pro evaluation analysis plan; discussions with MLT Turn Pro staff members.

Turn Pro continues to offer coaching to students as they enter the job market and begin their career journeys, which may help them continue to advance over time. In addition, engaging with peers through activities such as alumni events could potentially expand students’ social networks, which might expose them to a variety of opportunities and perspectives and give them a general sense of civic engagement and belonging in college and in their careers.

The Turn Pro Program Evaluation

The Turn Pro study, which includes an implementation analysis and an impact analysis, recruited students—with a focus on students of color—at three universities: Howard University, the University of Kentucky, and Arizona State University.[7]

The study is a randomized controlled trial in which eligible students are randomly assigned to a program group who are offered Turn Pro services, or to a control group who are not offered Turn Pro services.[8] The trial will allow the study team to rigorously measure the impacts—or effects—of the Turn Pro program on students’ outcomes over time. In a randomized controlled trial, members of the two study groups have similar characteristics, on average, at the start of the evaluation, so any differences in their outcomes observed later can be attributed to the program. MLT exceeded its enrollment target by enrolling more than 1,000 students into the study.

The study is using a wide variety of data sources to evaluate Turn Pro, including program-application and engagement data; university data; student surveys; student, staff, and employer partner interviews; and earnings data from the National Directory of New Hires.[9]

  • The impact analysis will estimate the effects of the Turn Pro program on student outcomes such as skill attainment, employment, and earnings.
  • The implementation analysis will describe Turn Pro’s program services, examine how the Turn Pro program was implemented both overall and at each of the three universities, determine the extent to which students in the program group used the Turn Pro services, and evaluate the contrast in service use between students in the program and control groups.

Characteristics of Turn Pro Study Participants

To be eligible for the Turn Pro study, students had to be entering their junior or senior year in college, and had to intend to work full time after graduation. Between April 2022 and October 2023, 1,017 students enrolled in the study.

As shown in Figure 3, the average age of students in the sample is 22.7 years, indicating that these students are mostly of traditional college age. About 57 percent are female. While Turn Pro was not limited to a particular racial or ethnic group, over half of the individuals in the study are Black/African American (52 percent) or Hispanic/Latino (25 percent) students. Other baseline characteristics suggest that many individuals in the Turn Pro study are students who come from households with low incomes and are first-generation students (as defined in Figure 3). For example, about 48 percent of the sample received a Pell Grant at the time of enrollment (not shown).[10] Moreover, about half of students were employed at the time of study enrollment, about 79 percent of whom were employed part time (not shown).

Figure 3: Selected Characteristics of Students in the Turn Pro Study at the Time of Study Enrollment

Race/ethnicity (%)

Figure showing that the majority of students enrolled in the study were Black or African American

Age (%)

Figure showing that 75% of students enrolled in the Turn Pro Study were 20-23 years old.

Internship experience before study enrollment (%)

Figure showing that 40% of participants had internship experience prior to enrollment in the study

Average household income (%)

Figure showing that 45% of participants had an average household income of less than $50,000

First-generation college student (%)

Figure showing that 40% of students in the study were first-generation college students

SOURCE: Baseline data from MLT Turn Pro program application.
NOTES: Students who responded that they identified as multiple races or ethnicities are counted in each corresponding group and in the combined group. Responses to the baseline question on race that are not included in the combined group are "Asian," "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander," White," and "Middle Eastern or North African." First-generation students were identified by the highest education level of their parents or guardians. Participants were counted as being first-generation students if no parent or guardian had a four-year degree. Household income refers to participants’ home addresses, rather than their school addresses.

This publication is the first of three planned for the MLT Turn Pro Study. An interim brief will be available in 2025; it will present findings from the implementation analysis and discuss whether Turn Pro increased the use of career-related services. A final report, which will be released in 2026, will describe Turn Pro’s effectiveness at helping students find and enter high-quality, high-wage jobs following graduation.

[1] Brad Hershbein and Melissa Kearney, Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes (Washington, DC: Hamilton Project, 2022).

[2] This study defines a high-quality job as “one that pays family-sustaining earnings or a minimum of $35,000 a year for workers between the ages of 25 to 44 and $45,000 a year for workers between the ages of 45 to 64.” See Anthony P. Carnevale, Jeff Strohl, Artem Gulish, Martin Van Der Werf, and Kathryn Peltier Campbell, The Unequal Race for Good Jobs: How Whites Made Outsized Gains in Education and Good Jobs Compared to Blacks and Latinos (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2019). Other factors that lead to job quality include “workplace safety and health, a voice, scheduling predictability, skills building, and advancement.” See U.S. Department of Commerce, Job Quality Toolkit (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2022).

[3] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Annual Earnings by Educational Attainment, Condition of Education” (, 2023).

[4] These structural issues include occupational segregation, biases in who gets called back for job interviews, differences in wages offered for jobs, college undermatch (when students’ academic credentials allow them access to colleges or universities that are more selective than the postsecondary options they actually choose), the racial wealth gap, and historical inequities and discrimination in labor market, housing, and other policies. For occupational segregation, see Darrick Hamilton, Algernon Austin, and William Darity Jr., “Whiter Jobs, Higher Wages: Occupational Segregation and the Lower Wages of Black Men,” Briefing Paper #288 (Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2011). For biases in interview callbacks see Lincoln Quillian, Devah Pager, Ole Hexel, and Arnfinn H. Midboen, “Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments Shows No Change in Racial Discrimination in Hiring Over Time,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, 41 (2017): 10,870–10,875. For differences in wages offered for jobs see Ronald G. Fryer, Devah Pager, and Jorg L. Spenkuch, "Racial Disparities in Job Finding and Offered Wages," Journal of Law and Economics 56, 3 (2013): 633–689. For college undermatching, see Jonathan Smith, Matea Pender, and Jessica Howell, “The Full Extent of Student-College Academic Undermatch,” Economics of Education Review 32, (2013): 247–261. For the racial wealth gap and historical inequities and discrimination in labor market, housing, and other policies see Dionissi Aliprantis and Daniel R. Carroll, “What Is Behind the Persistence of the Racial Wealth Gap?" (…, 2019).

[5] MLT is a national nonprofit organization that describes its mission as “building diverse leaders and equitable workspaces.” It has traditionally served Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American communities. See Management Leadership for Tomorrow, “Our Story: Management Leadership for Tomorrow” (, 2024).

[6] Nonexperimental evidence on Career Prep, another MLT program like Turn Pro, suggests that the coaching model can lead to program alumni being more likely to have better first jobs after graduation than a matched comparison group. See Susan Gershenfeld, Meg Lovejoy, Tatjana Mechede, and Maria Fernanda Escobar, Preparing People of Color for Leadership: An Evaluation of Management Leadership for Tomorrow's Career Prep Program (Waltham, MA: Institute on Assets and Social Policy, Brandeis University, 2018).

[7] The Turn Pro study targeted Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students, but did not exclude students based on their race or ethnicity. Another important aspect of this study is its emphasis on university partnerships. MLT has traditionally offered its programs through a competitive application process to students across the country and is aiming to expand its offerings through universities. Universities are a promising path to reach a large and diverse group of students. This study is designed to validate university partnerships as a viable path to engage many more students of color and help them achieve professional success. The study is being conducted at three partner universities to test whether the Turn Pro model works in different contexts, including two public universities and a private, historically Black university.

[8] Both study groups have access to career services normally available in the absence of the study, such as university career centers.

[9] The National Directory of New Hires, maintained by the federal Office of Child Support Services, contains quarterly wage data reported to the unemployment insurance system. Records in this database do not capture employment that is exempt from reporting to the system (such as self-employment or domestic work), or employment that goes unreported.

[10] Pell Grants are the main form of federal financial aid provided based on financial need.

Alonzo, Erick, Francesca Ciaramella, and Bennett Otten. 2024. “Supporting Students’ Career Building.” New York: MDRC.