Job placement/careers

Barry University considers asking contract bidders to provide internships

Barry University considers asking potential contractors if they’ll provide employment opportunities to students, reflecting increased pressure colleges face to help students get jobs.

Career services (as it now exists) must die, new report argues

Colleges are not professionally developing students the way they should be, and the solution is to blow up the current system and follow a new blueprint, report argues.

Texas technical colleges want to link state funding and employment outcomes

Texas technical colleges want to link 45 percent of their operating budget to the employment success of graduates.

University of Denver pushes collaborative career services

University of Denver's career office promotes faculty and alumni collaboration -- and leads to successful results.

Some recommended approaches for higher education and workplace development (opinion)

I once attended a meeting with a group of state education officials, policy makers and businesspeople. They were talking earnestly about a state requirement that all sixth graders develop a career plan to guide their paths through middle school, high school, college if they chose, and on into the career they had envisioned.

After listening for a while, I asked for a show of hands from those who felt they were currently working in a job they would have selected for themselves in sixth grade. No hands went up, but a nervous titter did.

As part of a rounded, purposeful educational experience, it’s fine to have sixth graders cast ahead to life after school and how they might earn a living. It can be some fun, too. But based on what we know about how our proclivities, talents and life circumstances change over time, it makes little sense to pretend that middle schoolers can and should chart a glide path from preadolescence to settled, wage-earning adulthood.

In fact, much of the current debate about education for work has a heavy air of unreality about it. It’s not just thinking that sixth graders need to start concentrating on careers. It’s failing to see that industries and jobs that many of them will work in have not even been invented yet. Twenty-five years ago, there was no Amazon or Google, no burgeoning set of allied health and fitness professions, no emerging artificial intelligence boom.

For the hard-to-fill jobs that are here now -- such as in manufacturing, the trades and welding, in particular -- let’s increase joint school-work opportunities. Cooperative work experiences, apprenticeships, internships and work-study placements in fields related to such jobs could be expanded at both the college and high school levels.

Such methods of acquainting students with current jobs can be combined with partnerships with manufacturers, say, to dispel outdated attitudes about the plant floor. A regent of the University of Wisconsin system who owned a manufacturing company had a mantra for students and parents who conjured images of dark, dirty, dangerous factories: “We don’t hurt you anymore!” His point was that much of contemporary manufacturing is done in clean, well-lit places via computer technology operated by skilled technicians.

Of course, employers paying more and offering attractive in-house training for jobs that go begging could be a potent part of the mix to develop a bigger, better work force. So could two basic abilities among employees that a business association leader recently touted to me: the ability to pass a drug test and the ability to use an alarm clock!

In higher education in particular, we also need to build more new degree pathways that allow students to get ready for their first job while taking into account what might be their second job and their longer-term career arc. For example, the University of Wisconsin system now offers a bachelor of applied studies (B.A.S.) degree at several campuses in cooperation with the Wisconsin Technical Colleges. I’ve referred to it as the “upside-down degree.” Students complete an associate degree at a technical college in a specific applied field and then move to a University of Wisconsin campus in their junior and senior years, with no loss of credit, to broaden out into their general education.

That turns the usual general-to-specific curriculum on its head. Students can enter these programs immediately out of high school, or after earning the two-year technical degree, while working and then deciding a baccalaureate is necessary for further career advancement. The programs are available online and in hybrid delivery formats.

A side benefit is that faculty members enjoy having more working adults in their general education classes -- older students who have the experience to understand both the personal and professional value of these liberal arts and sciences courses, as well as to enrich class discussion for all the students. More ways for colleges to incorporate shorter-term badges and certificates awarded in the workplace into such degree programs, and to offer similar “chunked learning” credentials themselves, could help both with job acquisition and upward mobility.

One hears a lot about downward mobility these days, especially of liberal arts majors -- concerns they and other recent graduates will be living in their parents’ basements without steady employment, struggling with six-figure student debt and postponing marriage, house buying and adulthood generally. A 2016 New York Times survey asked what people thought the unemployment rate was for 25- to 34-year-olds who graduated from a four-year college. The responses:

  • Times readers’ average: 9.2 percent
  • Google survey average answer: 6.5 percent
  • Correct answer: 2.4 percent
  • For those with only a high school degree, it’s 7.4 percent.

Such misunderstanding distracts us from what we do know: to be successful in the disruptive work environments that characterize new industries, employees need the fundamental kinds of knowledge and skills most often developed through a good liberal arts education. They include critical thinking, clear writing, persuasive speaking, numeracy, the ability to work well in diverse teams and an understanding of global issues. So discouraging students from studying the liberal arts is shortsighted and dangerous, especially for American leadership long term in a rapidly changing global knowledge economy. To be competitive over the long haul, the country needs its higher education system to prepare the work force of today and the work force of tomorrow.

Our language gets in the way of doing that well. The assertion that college is not for everybody surfaces regularly. When you peel back to what those pushing that notion mean by it, you often find that their default idea of “college” is pursuing a four-year degree at a residential institution in a subject that does not seem to them to be job related. But a student going to the local community college for a certificate in software development or an associate degree in hospitality management might sound to them like a grand idea.

That’s why those of us in higher education should be insisting to the rest of the world that in 21st-century America virtually everybody needs some postsecondary education and credential to make a decent wage and live a decent life. We should all be loud and clear that community colleges are, in fact, the institutions that can be the best place to start for students interested in what they have to offer. Then when some of these students decide they need a baccalaureate degree to go further in their career or satisfy their own curiosity, we can make pathways such as the bachelor in applied studies available to provide them with a different kind of college experience. This sort of thinking makes a lot more sense than impossibly long and winding career pathways for sixth graders.

Kevin P. Reilly is president emeritus and Regent Professor at the University of Wisconsin system, and a senior fellow with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

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Liberal arts college tries new approach to teaching soft skills

Reinhardt University launches program to train students in soft skills such as conflict management and strategic listening -- while preserving liberal arts mission.

How college work programs benefit both the student and the institution (essay)

As colleges and universities across the country grapple with challenges of access and affordability and worry about the sustainability of their business models, some institutions are considering whether or not to establish a program of work for all students.

Berea College, where I am president, has offered employment to all of its students for more than a century, and it was one of the founding members of the Work Colleges Consortium. This federally recognized organization includes eight residential liberal arts institutions that provide a universal work experience as part of their educational programing. The work program has become integral to the Berea experience, and it might well be worth consideration at other colleges and universities, too.

The Berea Program

We often say at Berea that we do not just admit students, we hire them. In consequence, we have 1,600 intelligent, motivated part-time employees. All of the WCC institutions receive federal grant funding; at Berea, we use a portion of that to pay students in the form of a nontaxable hourly wage, which increases with added experience and job responsibilities.

The students’ earnings can be used for general living expenses as well as to help contribute to the cost of their attendance. (Although no student pays tuition at Berea, they and their families are expected to contribute as determined by the FAFSA to fees and living expenses.) The compensation earned through the work program thus helps to minimize debt for our students. About a third of our students graduate entirely debt-free, with the rest borrowing an average of less than $7,000.

The students in the main are very capable workers. The majority start in positions involving working with their hands, in food service, as custodians, on our farm (one of the oldest continuously operating student educational farms in the United States), in our students crafts industries and the like. Starting with these assignments enables them to experience and value the dignity of manual labor well done. In fact, our founder, the Southern abolitionist Reverend John G. Fee, believed in the role education can play in promoting social mobility, and to that end, he saw work as necessary for blurring the distinctions of class. He believed as well that the values of independence, industry and innovation -- such crucial elements of the college learning experience -- are best built on a foundation of productive, necessary work. These beliefs still ring true at Berea.

Progressing through their college career, some students stay with assignments involving manual labor, usually taking on broadened responsibilities, including supervision of other students, while others shift to work that relates to their career interests. For example, future accounting professionals work in the college business office, graduate school-bound students often become teaching assistants, and students interested in education can work in the Child Development Lab, campus day care center and early childhood education facility. Students can explore the various options at our annual Labor Day celebration, which serves as a large collegewide job fair.

The WCC rules and the effectiveness of an educational work program require universal participation. All Berea students work at least 10 hours per week, and we have additional positions of up to five hours per week for those who desire to earn more money or wish to have additional learning experiences. For example, a student worker in my office spends five hours a week maintaining and updating the website but also holds a 10-hour position in our athletic facility.

A work program requires supervision by paid employees -- not only many staff but also teaching faculty. Since the work experience is an important part of each student’s learning, Berea staff are much more involved in the educational program than at institutions where only some of the students work and work is not intentionally integrated into the learning experience. That’s why we consider our staff to be members of the general faculty and support and reward their contributions to the education of students.

Additionally, the element of learning through work needs to be supported by an extensive infrastructure, including evaluations, a labor transcript (which graduates can submit when applying for jobs), the possibility of labor probation and even suspension for those students who are not progressing in meeting their responsibilities. Because it is so integral to the students’ learning at Berea, we also include the work program as part of our academic program in the decennial institutional reaccreditation process.

Many Benefits

Along with work and educational benefits, our program teaches other life skills. For example, many of our students have not had paid work positions before, and most have not had a bank account. We require all student paychecks to be direct deposited so that every student learns to manage a checking account, a first step in our more comprehensive financial literacy program.

We also encourage philanthropy. We promote our payroll deduction program to the students, and more than half make small contributions from their biweekly checks to the college’s annual fund. In fact, their participation rate exceeds that of faculty, staff and alumni giving overall.

Casual observation also suggests that our campus and buildings seem to be better treated by students than at institutions where regular employees are responsible for upkeep. It’s a little different to make a mess or damage the facilities if one of your fellow students will be cleaning it up or fixing what you did.

The Berea education is a transformative one for our students, and the work program contributes to that in many ways. Close bonds develop between students and labor supervisors, whether faculty or staff, thus allowing for enhanced mentorship. Many alumni credit their work experiences as having been crucial to acquiring work skills, getting first jobs and advancing professionally. In fact, many have shared with me that it was their work experience on the campus that ended up having the greatest impact on their professional lives.

One older alumnus, for instance, told me about his work assignment in the restaurant of the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel, a campus inn that the college owns. At that time, we had a hotel management program overseen by Richard Haugen, a graduate of Cornell University’s program, who enjoys legendary status among the alumni who worked under him. He had introduced a signature dish, chicken flakes in a bird’s nest, on the restaurant menu. The eponymous nest, made of shredded potatoes, shaped appropriately and fried, needs to be made ahead of time, and this particular alum had the assignment of arriving in the kitchen at 4 a.m. to make the nests. One morning he overslept, and chicken flakes were off the menu for the rest of that day. Haugen made sure this was an experience never forgotten by the alum, who told me that in 40-some years of employment, he never again arrived late for work.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of the program, however, is that it allows our students to become deeply engaged in their learning environment while encouraging pride, confidence and respect for all manner of work. I saw that four years ago, when I was being interviewed on campus for Berea’s presidency. On that visit, the questions I wanted to answer had to do with the claims the college makes about its mission and identity and whether they were genuine. A work program makes for good press, but it would be easy to imagine that it would be mostly about PR.

The visit included a campus tour. As we entered Presser Hall, the home of our music program, a young man was emerging from the first-floor restroom, pushing a cleaning cart and removing his rubber gloves. His demeanor, which I took in at a glance, was eloquent testimony. I am sure he had not enjoyed cleaning that bathroom, but his bearing was one of accomplishment and purpose. He had learned to clean bathrooms well and found satisfaction in doing a good job. That was the moment I decided that if offered the position I would be coming to Berea College.

Lyle D. Roelofs is president of Berea College.

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Berea College student working on grounds crew

How to attract student workers? Bring the work to them

For college students, long commutes can be a barrier to off-campus jobs. At the University of Cincinnati, one company brought the work to the students.

Underemployment rates for college graduates decline

Underemployment rates for college grads have sharply declined since the 2008 recession, and degree holders far outpace high school graduates, especially among African-American and Hispanic adults.

Author of 'Higher Education and Employability' discusses the book's themes

A new book argues that colleges of all kinds need to help their students better prepare for the world of work. A Q&A with the book's author, Peter Stokes.


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