Wanted: Better Career Support from Higher Education

President Barack Obama is trying to do what he can to make higher education more accessible to more people, from trying to make community college free to anyone who really wants it to coming up with new metrics that will help people choose which institution to attend when the time comes. Of course, it would also help if the nation’s colleges and universities would do a few things themselves to shape up. Career support is one place where many institutions receive a failing grade.

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I’ve written previously about Why Obama’s Free Community College Plan is a GREAT Idea, in part because it could help lessen what appears to be an ever-widening skills gap in the American workforce. But HR and talent departments across the nation also need more from higher education in terms of career support for their students. That’s why it’s frustrating to read about the Voice of the Graduate study conducted by Chegg (an online student hub) and McKinsey that surveyed 4,900 recent graduates. It found that nearly half (48%) of all graduates could not obtain a job in their desired field. Even when you look at just the top 100 schools, even 41% of those elite graduates failed to get a job in their chosen field. When even the students coming out of the nation’s best colleges and universities can’t get a foot in the door of the field they want, you have to seriously question higher education’s ability to effectively bridge secondary school to the workplace.

When you start digging into opinions about the career services offered by institutions of higher education, the picture deteriorates even further. Millennial Branding and InternMatch teamed up to produce the 2014 College Career Center Study. Of the 4,000 students interviewed, 61% feel the centers are ineffective at assisting students to obtain jobs and 57% feel they rarely or never get help in determining a career path. These numbers are downright awful. I believe if you put four years into studying for a particular field that your college or university should play a huge role in helping secure employment in that field.

Where’s the disconnect? Why aren’t college career services more robust? They exist and they’re available (that last study mentioned that 64% said it’s easy to meet with career center staff), so that’s not the problem. It’s possible that the career centers are somewhat outdated in how they do what they do. For the younger set, that means social media. As it turns out, 83% of respondents in the College Career Center Study said they wanted career-related updates via social media, which goes hand-in-hand with 32% reporting that their campus career centers are rarely or never effective at communication. Up to half of the students also noted that their centers rarely or never help them with such important aspects as online self-branding.

The plain fact of the matter is that higher education’s career centers should be helping students find and obtain the best internships, maintaining robust job postings by academic major, and provide real advice and skills around making the transition from school to work through workshops and classes.

There are some institutions who are getting it right, and others would do well to follow their lead. Penn State, University of Maryland, and Bentley University are three mentioned in the College Career Center Study that serve as great examples.

The problem with higher education in general is that it’s more about the selectivity of the schools than what kind of help they provide in getting students successfully employed in their fields. While President Obama tinkers with ideas around new metrics to help students compare schools, I think HR and talent departments need to make the case to include percentage of students employed within 6 months of completing their studies and the percentage of students who get jobs directly related to their majors.

January 31, 2015   Updated :March 14, 2015   career suport, higher education   

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