Aren't Colleges Supposed to Help You Find a Good Job?

Feb 1, 2018 12:00:00 AM

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As parents, we focus so much energy on making sure our kids are prepared for college, because we believe this is the sure path for a productive career and promising future. Turns out our college kids don’t share our optimism. According to a recent Gallup study, a representative sample of more than 32,000 students at 43 four-year colleges and universities reported a fair amount of uncertainty about whether they are learning what they need for their career.
Only a third of students strongly believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34 percent) and in the workplace (36 percent). Just half (53 percent) strongly believe their major will lead to a good job.
Not surprisingly, students’ chosen majors greatly influence their confidence about their college preparation and employability. STEM majors are the most confident about their job prospects, but not quite as sure that college is preparing them to succeed. Students pursuing public service majors like education, social work and criminal justice, interestingly enough, feel the most prepared and very employable, while liberal arts majors feel the least prepared and the least employable. This survey made me wonder whether this general feeling of anxiety is an extension of how unprepared students feel coming out of high school. Too often, high school does not prepare students for college, so [pullquote]even for the those who stay in college, they start to worry their college courses are not preparing them for their careers.[/pullquote] And business leaders tend to agree with this pessimism, according to the Gallup report:
While 96 percent of chief academic officers of colleges and universities believe that their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the work force, only 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree. One implication of this misalignment is a persistent skills gap in which college graduates lack the abilities that companies need and value.
If students receive career-specific support from their university, they express much greater confidence in their work prospects. This is especially true for students of color, first-gens and non-traditional students. But that support has to be easy to access and it has to be valuable. Some 40 percent of students have never visited their campus’ career office, including 35 percent of seniors, and students who do visit don’t always view the guidance as particularly helpful.

Career Services, Internships Need to Get Real

This got me thinking about my own daughter’s struggle to figure out the path to a meaningful internship, which is often the best way to understand the skills and abilities employers demand. My first suggestion was for her to visit the career services office—surely they must have a database of alums with whom they could connect her to find the right summer opportunity? Turns out, not so much. Yep, they could help her with the basics, like resume writing. But [pullquote position="left"]they didn’t offer her a single internship lead[/pullquote], so it means she needed to rely on her parents—and her parents’ friends and colleagues—to help her navigate the networking. She’s lucky to have that, and she knows it. But if you’re a student without that kind of parental support or social capital, you are out of luck. All of this is pretty maddening to us parents of college students, who are either paying dearly for college tuition or watching their kids sink into debt to afford an education that is supposed to pave the way to meaningful work. I hope colleges start to recognize that it is not enough to steer students toward the right courses and major. They need to offer some authentic connection to post-college employability.

Tracy Dell’Angela

Tracy Dell’Angela is a writer, education nonprofit executive director and a mom passionate about education improvements. Previously, Tracy was Director of Outreach and Communications for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She came to IES from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produces research that drives improvement in Chicago and nationwide. She also served as Senior Project Director for 100Kin10 at the University of Chicago and was Director of Program Investments and Partnerships for the Chicago Public Education Fund. Tracy spent most of her career as an award-winning newspaper journalist, including 12 years at the Chicago Tribune as an education reporter covering national policy and the Chicago Public Schools. A Californian by birth but a Chicagoan in spirit, Tracy attended University of Chicago as a master's student in social sciences and earned a B.A. in journalism and political science from San Diego State University.

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