Some college leaders seem to believe that issues such as college costs, student debt, learning outcomes, and placement rates for graduates are sensationalized by the media and not nearly as serious and important as they are made out to be. (Maxwell, Dr. David, President, Drake University, “Time to Play Offense”, Inside Higher Education, 2/4/13).
When parents and students have both made sacrifices and borrowed mightily to finance the student’s college education, how can college leaders trivialize or ignore the fact that students typically must pay back $25,000 to $100,000 in college loans and credit card debt? Furthermore, parents with more than one child have probably done one or more of the following to cover college costs and related expenses: 1) Taken out personal loans, 2) Borrowed against their house, 3) Increased their credit card limits, 4) Tapped into their retirement savings, 5) Postponed large purchases, repairs and vacations, and 6) Ignored needed medical and dental procedures.
Many college leaders apparently have little idea how much debt students and their parents must take on to complete a four or six year education. Does your college know exactly how much debt each student has built up by the time they graduate? Do they know how much money each parent now owes because of college expenses for their children? Try adding all of that student and parent debt together to get a total. Do your leaders express any concern? Are they doing anything about the problem? By the way, for most students, student loans are not financial aid. They are student debt that has to be paid back. If a typical student owes say $35,000, you can estimate the monthly payments for 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.
In perhaps 60+ percent of the families with two, three or four children, money is tight. Of course these families care about college costs, student debt, learning outcomes, and placement rates for graduates. Parents want their children to graduate with job offers that will enable them to live independently, take care of their own expenses and begin to pay back the money they borrowed, and rightly so.
The preponderance of students want to graduate with a good job, ideally one in their field of study, at a salary on which they can live. To accomplish their goals, students need more help than they are receiving from most colleges today. It is time for large numbers of college leaders to wake up, step up and pay more attention to the employment needs of their financially stressed students. To effectively meet these needs, college leaders will have to mobilize and refocus their college communities, provide resources and implement methods and systems that can improve student employment results.
Ignoring such a significant issue speaks poorly of college leaders. Great college leaders put students first, take on the difficult problems and solve them. Poor leaders deceive themselves and others, put other priorities ahead of students, make excuses, shift blame, resist change and never realize how many students they have prevented from maximizing their success in the job market.
Importantly, far too many colleges fail to accumulate, analyze, utilize and share the statistics and information that will show them how well they are serving the employment needs of students. To serve students effectively, colleges must know how they are doing in areas other than academics. The factors used to evaluate student employment success and a college’s job search preparation performance can be displayed on a spreadsheet chart with the following column headings. (See Below) For columns 2 – 15, a number should be inserted for every major offered.
Student Employment Success Chart
Column 1 – “Majors” – List each major (All 60 – 100+) offered by your college.
Column 2 – “Graduates” – Number of graduates in each major?
Column 3 – “Related” – Number who accepted job offers directly related to their majors.
Column 4 – “Unrelated” – Number who accepted job offers unrelated to their majors.
Column 5 – “No Job Offer” – Number who received NO job offers by graduation.
Column 6 – “Received” – Average # of job offers received by students in each major.
Column 7 – “Percent” – Percent of students in each major receiving one or more job offers.
Column 8 – “Improvement” – Percent improvement (+) decline (-) from the previous year.
Column 9 – “Dollars” – Average $ amount of job offers received by students in each major.
Column 10 – “National” – National average $ amount offered to students in each major.
Column 11 – “Employers” – Number of employers visiting campus to recruit each major.
Column 12 – “Interviews” – Student interviews on campus for Full-Time jobs in each major.
Column 13 – “UnRel Int” – Student interviews on campus for jobs unrelated to their major.
Column 14 – “Internships” – Number of internships that were available in each major.
Column 15 – “P/T Jobs” – Number of Part-Time Jobs that were available in each major.
Note: Colleges should complete this chart as students graduate each year. Columns 3 – 9 can be resurveyed after six months (using Columns 16 – 22) to see how many additional students have been employed and how much the numbers have changed.
Column 16 – “Related” – Number who accepted job offers directly related to their majors.
Column 17 – “Unrelated” – Number who accepted job offers unrelated to their majors.
Column 18 – “No Job Offer” – Number who received NO job offers.
Column 19 – “Received” – Average # of job offers received by students in each major.
Column 20 – “Percent” – Percent of students in each major receiving one or more job offers.
Column 21 – “Improvement” – Percent improvement (+) decline (-) from the previous year.
Column 22 – “Dollars” -Average $ amount of job offers received by students in each major.
Some colleges will be uncomfortable with this tool and may refuse to use it, try to discredit it or keep the results confidential. However, great college leaders utilize analytical tools that will help them evaluate performance and make better decisions. They do not ignore or obfuscate the numbers and facts. They stay on top of them, value them and continually take steps to improve them. Smaller leaders ignore or even hide these numbers and try to shift the focus away from their college’s performance.
College leaders who only provide students with the most basic career and job search assistance seldom track their performance and can only guess how well their students are doing in the job market. It is likely that some college leaders do not want to know. At the other extreme, whenever a college leader says something like, “97% of our students are employed within six months of graduation”, it raises questions. Colleges that boast exceptionally high placement rates seldom provide any details to backup their statements. It would be interesting to know whether the statement is true, what job titles those students now hold and how much they are being paid (Would you like fries with that?).
Those college leaders either do not care what happens to their students or they are unwilling to face the truth. Such leaders are clearly ignoring the needs and wants of their students. The best leaders recognize that students do not simply attend college to obtain a good education, they need, want and expect colleges to guide them through the job search preparation process, so they can effectively compete for employment opportunities.
Question 1: How much money will students need to earn in order to live on their own, cover all of the normal living expenses and pay back their college loans?
Whatever it is, that number is critical. Students who are not able to obtain a job which offers a living wage rate will immediately start off in a big hole. Students and parents already know that. Not all colleges seem to care about that fact.
Question 2: How many majors does your college offer where few jobs exist and/or the starting rate is very low?
Colleges that offer many majors in fields where there are few jobs or only low paying jobs are also likely to provide students will little useful job search preparation assistance. They send students out into the job market unprepared to compete for the few positions that pay a living wage. Some would ask why a college would offer so many majors that have very few employment opportunities and do so little to help students with their job search, although we all know the answer.
Question 3: Why would a college that does a good job of preparing students for their field of study not do an equally good job of helping students identify, prepare for, pursue and land good jobs?
The leaders of each college should think about and answer this question. Since very few students know how to prepare for and conduct a comprehensive and effective job search, they need help. Because grades alone are no longer enough for most employers, students need to hear (from day one) that there are things they should be doing during each semester to make themselves stronger employment candidates. Thereafter, students need ongoing training and coaching, so they can achieve the level of readiness that is needed to compete for the best jobs.
Question 4: Does your college say, “It is not our responsibility to help students prepare for and conduct an effective search for employment? or “We really don’t care if our students obtain good jobs. or “We aren’t going to devote the time, money and resources to student job search preparation assistance.”
College leaders do not verbalize those negative sentiments. However, some of those leaders make their distant, uncaring approach known by ignoring this important issue and by starving the functions that try to help students prepare for their senior year job search.
Question 5: Does your college ever survey students and parents to find out what is important to them, like graduating with a good job?
Of course, college leaders should not ask those questions if they do not want to know or do not intend to do anything about the issues they identify.
The Most Important Question: Why would any college leader ask students to work so hard toward their dreams, let them get close but not allow them to touch those dreams?
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens to many students when a college does not provide the help, concern and guidance that students need to get ready to pursue and win the job offers they deserve.
Colleges that have delegated the job search preparation and student employment functions to a single department with a one employee or less for each one thousand students cannot possibly believe that they are being successful in providing the information, training and guidance that students deserve and need.
Students want only three things: 1) A good education, 2) An enjoyable college experience, and 3) A good job when they graduate. With that in mind, students need and want leaders who believe in them, stand up for them, fight for them and want them to be successful in everything they do. For students, success means not only graduating with a good education, it also means graduating with a good job, one that will help fulfill their dreams and launch their careers. College leaders who will not or cannot effectively address the needs of their students in all three areas will be remembered for their inflexibility, shortcomings and failures rather than their effectiveness, forward thinking and successes.
Students need college leaders who not only claim innovation, agility and flexibility in their strategic plans, they need leaders who demonstrate those qualities by fully and enthusiastically addressing the employment preparation needs of their students. Unfortunately, too many college students see leaders who accept and even encourage understaffed, underfunded, uninspired and very limited employment preparation efforts that reach too few students and force many good students to enter the job market unprepared to compete for the jobs that pay a living rate. For large numbers of students to find employment success, the entire college community must come together to provide the information, training and guidance that is needed. Does that happen at your college?
College leaders must be expected to anticipate and adjust to the changing needs of students. Helping large numbers of students prepare for their senior year job search is an important part of the job. When two thirds (or more) of your students do not know how to prepare for and conduct a comprehensive and effective job search and have not done the things that employers need, want and expect, something is terribly wrong.
The willingness of college leaders to go the extra mile and help students successfully launch their careers will always be seen as adding great value to the college experience. No longer can colleges, even those with praiseworthy academic programs, ignore what is obvious to students and parents. Students want and need good jobs when they graduate. It is time for college leaders to step up, recognize the need and address that need with enthusiasm and determination.