Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., is one of a number of institutions that have expanded the scope of “career services” to help a new generation of graduates who are exiting college without a job, let alone a career. The university offers “lifetime career services,” publishes a job-market newsletter and hosts field trips to local employers.
Here is a guest post from Susan Brennan, managing director of University Career Services at Bentley.
After 15 years of working with college students, I object to the recent depictions of graduates as self-absorbed and entitled, without jobs and feeling stuck. This is the complete opposite of what I experience. Today's college students are, in fact, optimistic. Excited, even.
Recent college graduates may be frustrated, as they face one of the toughest job markets in decades. They may be dismayed by conversations about whether their college degree is "worth it." A recent Georgetown University study, focused on unemployment by academic major, asserts that it is.
Rather than dismiss Gen Y as entitled or whiny about the economy, campus career service experts need to consider the effectiveness of our approach. Colleges and universities must provide students with the skill sets necessary to stand out in a competitive job market.
For the record, I am not advocating the kind of hand-holding that will delay maturity. There is certainly enough of that going on. But I am advocating we reach out immediately to incoming first-year students. We should be encouraging them to start thinking about how their decisions are going to affect their future, to think about learning as it relates to career aspirations. At my institution, we have a four-year approach that begins by engaging first-year students as they walk in the door, and we recently hired a career adviser dedicated to first-year students.
This type of thinking and preparation goes beyond a school’s career services department. It takes a village to graduate young adults who can survive this job market and lead in today’s world. It takes an all-encompassing process that is supported by curriculum and programs that emphasize service-learning, ethics, and social responsibility. Institutions can bring together disciplines such as business and liberal arts to provide more contextual learning. The idea that you can be a film major, for example, and learn not only how to make a film but also how to produce and sell a film, is critical.
The key ingredient to it all? Practical experience. There’s a certain maturity that comes after tackling internships, studying abroad, completing class projects with corporate partners, or traveling to Ghana to help poverty-stricken villagers start and run businesses. Maturity often comes from being treated like an adult with something to offer.
In addition to learning for the sake of learning, schools should also be teaching students how to make a difference and how to apply their knowledge. This type of university-wide mindset gives graduates a leg up.
What do I see in recent grads and current students? I see people who are landing dream jobs in a tough economy. No kidding. We know from a survey of the Bentley University Class of 2011, for example, 78 percent of the respondents are employed and 21 percent are attending graduate school full time.
I meet young people every day who are confident in how they will contribute to society. They have made the most of their college experience and utilize what they have learned. Their high expectations should push universities to expand and innovate, especially in offering practical experience. We must make sure that our students get a substantial return on their investment in learning and life.