Arguments over gainful employment and whether or not a college degree is worth it have played a dominant role in the larger war on education during the last few years. Postsecondary institutions are increasingly awakening to the need to activate and/or improve their own plans to support the career success of their graduates.
This begs the question: How can a college or university really guarantee that their students will find gainful employment after graduation? Clearly, there are other variables, such as the students’ own willingness to prepare for and pursue opportunities. There must be some way to create a better understanding of the education-career connection for students. There should be a way to better link the goal shared by schools and students to find the gainful employment and career success that to many would make a college degree worth it.
For example, looking back at “9 Steps to Boost Your Career Before 2013,” (16 September, 2012) it seems obvious that with a little revision, the exact same steps could apply to postsecondary institutions that wish to improve the education-to-career connection for their graduates.
So here they are, the nine ways schools can help seize career success for their students:
Step 1: Assess Goals
As I wrote last month, “The first step is perhaps the most important: figuring out what it is you really want to do. It helps to dream big and go long.” Schools should look at what their placement rate improvement goal will be. Do you want to see a 10% improvement over the next five years? Twice as many students placed into good jobs after graduation ten years from now?
Similarly, individual, schools must also focus on their own definition of successful placement for individual students. What are your students looking for? Are most of them pursuing careers that will hopefully lead them to jobs with six-figure salaries, or is the focus of your students and institution to provide an education that will prepare students for work in more personally rewarding areas, such as the non-profit sector?
Once defined, these larger goals should be broken down into smaller monthly, weekly, or even daily tasks. An institutional self-study similar to this overview provided by Fairleigh Dickenson University is a good start, but the specific goal of the gainful employment of students needs to be the focus.
Step 2: Audit Existing Credentials
The next step I suggested to individuals also applies to schools: get a reality check by reviewing your existing credentials. Colleges and universities should take an honest look at the programs they offer, where they have obtained accreditation at the program and institutional levels, what the reputation of their programs and institution really is, where improvements could or need to be made, how these credentials could be used to demonstrate the value of seeking a degree from the school, and other such issues.
This is not an easy process, and it’s difficult to realize that part of the problem with student placement rates may in part connect to the institution not meeting the ever-changing expectations of the public, especially potential employers; however, this can be turned around if addressed.
Step 3: Consult with Others
Here I can post almost verbatim the advice I gave to individuals: Consult with others external to the institution, both informally and formally. One step to take is to assemble advisory boards that focus on specific programs and the institution as a whole. Include a wide mix of colleagues from other regional institutions, businesses, non-profits, governmental and professional organizations, and other members of the community. Engage them in the self-assessment and review of your institution’s credentials. Keep in mind that this representative sample reflects the larger context of what your institution and students are facing in terms of how well graduates are received when they seek employment.
Step 4: Explore Possibilities
As your school’s self-assessment and consultations with others evolve, explore all possibilities for helping students achieve the education needed to connect them to gainful employment. For example, is your institution taking full advantage of the variety of learning options currently available for students? Are you offering a healthy mix of face-to-face, hybrid/blended, and online delivery courses and programs? Would some programs serve students better in one modality than another? Should certain certificate and degree options be offered in cohorts? In the facilities of local businesses?
Students want and need flexible options to do well in school, and they are shopping around for the best fit. Does your institution really meet the needs of your students? Are you making it easy for students to find and consider these options? See what St. Bonaventure University has done with its website to reach students more effectively.
Step 5: Network
Just as with an individual job search, colleges and universities should cast a wide net via social media and learn about its usage for career development by students. Nicholas Jackson of The Atlantic published an infographic on the ways employers make use of social media during both the hiring and the employment processes. Including this key piece is vital to linking institutions and their graduates with potential employers.
Step 6: Create a Plan
As the above steps are completed, it’s important to create a concrete action plan. This will not only help keep the institution and its constituents moving forward by connecting students to jobs, it will also let external organizations and individuals see clearly how they fit into the plan. Similar to the benefits of posting an individual goal plan where a person can refer to it frequently, the plan of a college or university should be made public. This will help to energize it, hopefully encouraging others to buy into the goal of connecting graduates and jobs.
Step 7: Take Action
Most of us have been involved with the creation of a plan or witnessed a plan announced by an institution only to see it become stagnant. With something as vital as gainful employment, it’s important to keep the plan moving forward. The Center for Community and Economic Development offers some good advice not only about developing a strategic plan such as this one to connect students with jobs, but also how to keep the plan moving forward. Make it a priority to accomplish at least a small step on a near daily basis so that the plan continues to move forward and gain momentum.
Step 8: Progress Checks
Just as an individual may benefit from inviting a support system of family members and friends to help hold them accountable for moving a goal-oriented plan forward, so too should colleges and universities generate a support network to maintain progress checks on the gainful employment plan. Perhaps the advisory committees and trustees could help perform this task.
Step 9: Keep Moving
As I concluded in my previous post directed at individuals, schools should also remember that the logical order represented above shouldn’t be seen as a linear process. Colleges and universities must continue to reflect on where they are in terms of connecting graduates to jobs. Times change, so there will be unanticipated needs and opportunities to be included.
Gainful employment rates can improve if postsecondary institutions take the lead in guiding students on career development and by providing a concrete plan for external entities, such as businesses and non-profits, to get involved, too. Because this is a large, shared goal, the best solution is to all work together for our mutual success.
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