Colleges Need New Approaches to Career Preparation

Too many of our new graduates are not getting jobs—or at least the kind of jobs that put them on a career path and provide sufficient compensation to pay back loans.

For three years, high unemployment rates have plagued some of our most talented young people. Colleges cannot change the economy or force companies to hire. But they can do a better job preparing their students to compete for available positions.

Colleges need to invest in their career services. But just doing more of the same won’t be enough. They must embrace a much more holistic vision of careers, with clear responsibilities for both student and institution.

Three strategies will help:

1) Clarify how students need to contribute to their own career success. Many students seem to think that their job is over when they decide to matriculate at a particular college; all they need to do after that is get good grades and a lucrative job will follow. Colleges need to clearly articulate from the freshman year on what students must do while they are in college to be competitive in the work world.

2) Identify the skills and characteristics required for post-graduate success—and help students develop them. The availability of a searchable database of hundreds of alumni profiles can help students better understand the connection between college and career. Students will learn more from reading about alumni experiences—especially when an alum graduated in a recession—than they will from any administration exhortations not to panic. With this kind of resource, students will likely see the need to make better use of Study Abroad and internship opportunities.

3) Develop a career community. Parents have a vested interest in the employment of their sons and daughters. Many alumni, and friends of an institution, also care deeply about graduate outcomes. Establishing a group of individuals who are willing to give career advice and assistance provides an excellent supplement to the work of on-site career professionals. At the same time, these volunteers expand both the career knowledge and opportunity base available to students and graduates.

Good jobs for college graduates do exist, but we need to do a much better job of preparing students to be competitive job applicants. And, we need to make sure that students are as invested in their own success as the schools they attend.

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