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How Colleges Should Prepare Students For The Current Economy

One of the most pressing concerns for higher education institutions today is whether they’re offering real value for the considerable tuitions they’re charging.

This unease, which has permeated campuses across the country, is absolutely warranted.

Students and their families are increasingly worried about the return on their investment in higher education; as a result, the burden of proof has now fallen on colleges and universities, which must demonstrate that they can truly prepare each and every student for a successful life and career after graduation.

Unfortunately for students, parents and educators, there is no established or readily accepted standard or metric to measure how “successful” a college or university is in arming students for the post-diploma decades.

And this presents a genuine problem, because, if the current confusion, uncertainty – and even cynicism – about higher education continue, we may find that one of America’s greatest institutional assets is downgraded in people’s minds. In fact, according to one survey, it’s already happening. The collateral damage from this reputational degradation will only hamper our nation’s future economic prospects and possibilities.

Recognizing the stakes, a number of colleges are doubling down and enhancing their career placement services for students. They are doing this in a pragmatic and thoughtful way that ensures that short-term skills and training for the “real” world don’t eclipse or erase higher education’s over-arching mission of creating a generation of curious, analytical and open life-long learners.

At my university, for example, we’re offering a four-year career development plan called “Hire Education.” The program is focused on four themes tied to each college year: Explore, Experiment, Experience and Excel.

The “Explore” phase begins freshmen year for students, with a career development seminar that’s taught in close collaboration with corporate partners and lays the foundation for a lifetime of career management.

During the class, students start to discover their professional path with a Strong Interest Inventory® Code Assessment and begin to hone vital career skills during interactive lab sessions where they come face-to-face with corporate recruiters for mock interviews and elevator pitches.

The seminar lays the foundation for students’ subsequent career development as they “Experiment” with industries through career fairs and networking events; “Experience” internships, more than 90 percent of Bentley students complete at least one; and, ultimately, prepare to “Excel” in a dynamic workplace.

By the time graduation is in sight, students have had four years of focused and targeted career advising and, in the process, they’ve developed and implemented a customized career action plan that offers a solid and sustainable bridge to the economy of the 21st century.

There are a host of other noteworthy job counseling and placement programs at other colleges and universities such as Xavier University and Washington University in St. Louis.

We are seeing results and helping to make the education we offer our students more relevant and more valuable. In fact, 98 percent of our 2012 graduates received job offers or are in graduate school. And this placement rate has been above 90 percent since 2007.

There are other positives here, too – especially the low default rate on students’ college loans. The latest number at my university is .09 percent, which means that 99 percent of our students successfully pay back their loans, a direct correlation to successful job placement efforts.

Higher education is at a crucial crossroad today. New models and new programs are proliferating, as the role of colleges and universities in our society is being debated. All of this is well and good – even healthy.

But, in the meantime, I believe we need to place much greater focus on both career development and measurable employment outcomes for our students. As we offer students a quality education, we must also set a higher standard for their future.

Finding and holding a good job is the first big step toward students’ post-graduate success.

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