Thoughts on College/University

Job-BannerLots of talk about college kids/graduates trying to find a job that is commensurate with their education or, more specifically, their college majors. The situation has them second-guessing not just their majors but whether they should even have gone to the expense and trouble of going to college in the first place.  This is an amalgam of a few previous posts with new thoughts on my mind….

I’ve been involved in teaching and coaching on the corporate level for over 30 years. I even spent a few years interviewing potential hires for the international sector of the financial institution for whom I worked. (Resumes are a funny thing. I kept a cartoon on my desk where it would be seen by the person being interviewed. It was an old comic in which the title character named Herman was leaning over the HR person’s desk and saying, “No, it’s not that I’m overqualified. My resume is a pack of lies.”) 

My latest job there involved being in daily contact with new hires as they came through our 6-10 week training program. I got to see them up close and personal. By and large, these new hires – who were not all business majors – had a fairly clear idea of what they wanted to do. And in the mid-to-late 90’s they were treated like gold. “The War for Talent” it was called. The corporations couldn’t do enough for them!

This is not the group I’m working with now. Many are facing three difficulties, as I see it:

·     First, they equate what they can do with their college degree and area of specialization as being one and the same thing. They let their major dictate the job they’re seeking.

·     Second, they have no clear idea of what they want to do

·     Third, no one has shown them how to create a strategy for finding a job (as Col. Hannibal Smith of that “great” old TV series and recent movie, “The ‘A’ Team” likes to say, “You’ve got to have a plan!” 

A ‘plan,’ you say?  Well, let me introduce you to a few of my associates: recent (I’m defining “recent” as being within the past 7 – 10 years) college graduates:

  • Graduate #1: went to an Ivy League college. No idea what he wanted to do until he came across a teaching job a year later (education was not his major)
  • Graduate #2: attended one of the top, if not the top, graphics art school. Now works for a firm designing t-shirts. No embarrassment there but he constantly questions why he even bothered to go to this particular school and even college itself incurring thousands of dollars in student loans (which these institutions have the nerve to want re-paid!)
  • Graduate #3: attended one of the country’s major and well-known schools. Spent two years traveling around the country doing various jobs that really interested her until she went back to school in the medical field and is now quite happy in that field

There are others but my point is that they all went to top – flight colleges (let me point out here that these areas of uncertainty and doubt are not restricted to just those students in the upper tier schools) but no one guided them on to the right track. In all fairness, many students never set foot in the school’s respective Career Center.

Here’s another group, more recent: two graduates this past Spring (2013)…no clear idea of what they want to do. Are biding their time and making some money working – you guessed it – in a restaurant.

Another fellow graduated 3 years ago. Had a job but didn’t like the industry nor the position. Currently unemployed and not really searching either.

I think they had a strategy but, unfortunately, the strategy was to sit at home, send a resume here and there and wait for the call. The call doesn’t seem to be coming.

Let me change gears a bit here. If you are a parent of a college-age student or college graduate, how many of your child’s courses can you name? Go ahead. Take your time. I’m betting you were able to come up with at least five which, over a 4-year college span isn’t so bad (In case you missed it, my tongue is in my cheek).

Can you name some of the courses they didn’t take?  Perhaps a foolish question but let me start you off – Courses My College – Student child did not take while at college:

  • Networking Skills
  • Job Research Skills
  • Interviewing Skills
  • Selling Yourself
  • Career Management

When our son entered college, my wife and I attended the Parent Orientation with him. They took the students off to another room while they filled us in on life on campus; learning to let them be, sending them cookies and other such topics. One question they asked the parents was, “what do you expect your student to get out of the college experience?” (“Student.” That’s how they refer to your child, your “student.” Not a bad title, I guess, if you consider that we’re all students, really). The majority of responses were continually being, “a good job.”

When they brought the students back in and asked them the same question (what do you expect to get out of college?) The students answered, “learning lots of things in their field as well as meeting other kids, having new experiences,” etc.

Very few said that they were looking to get a good job.  Somebody’s missing something here.  Is it the parents?  Is it the students?  Is it the school?

You can excuse the parents for being more pragmatic. After all, it’s likely that they are the ones who will be shelling out all that dough. You can excuse the students. Their answer – in my opinion – is what they should be looking to get out of college.

In my opinion again, society has changed too rapidly.  Colleges have gotten too big too fast and they struggle – many of them – to stay afloat.  I won’t mention that they’ve become bloated because that’s not where I’m headed in these writings.

The reality is businesses expect the next crop of new hires to hit the ground running with all their skills built-in and fine-tuned.  Businesses in the United States treat colleges as their “Minor Leagues,” the way Major League Baseball teams have minor league teams around the country ready to fill their rosters. Or like the NFL and the NBA use colleges as their minor leagues.  Don’t think so?  Watch next year’s NFL or NBA draft. What is the source of the new players being drafted?  You know the answer: colleges.  If you’re big enough, strong enough, skilled enough, chances are you’re looking to attend the college that can lead you to a professional sports career.  Why?  To quote Willie Sutton, famous bank robber, when asked why he robbed banks?  Because, that’s where the money is.

So what is the role of colleges & universities today?  Many colleges take a lot of money from corporations.  In return, the corporation – or wealthy individual – gets to put their names on an auditorium or business school or such.  It’s in colleges’ best interests to play along.

Ask yourself, exactly what is the role of a college in today’s world?  Ask your friends. You’ll get varied answers.  However, if you’re a parent today with a child entering college, or already in college, or soon-to-graduate, or worse: already graduated and living back with you, chances are good you have answered the same way the parents at my son’s orientation answered – in case you forgot: to get a good (paying) job.

I believe that that the role of a college is to expose its students to learning that teaches them how to think critically and abstractly in order to deal with the concrete yet ambiguous world in which we live.  The student you sent away at age 18 is vastly different from the student you’re getting back at age 21.  It may not seem that way once you get re-acquainted with their lifestyle as played out on their bedroom floors!  But, they’ve been exposed.  They’ll never be the same again.

But, let’s be honest, college is a business just like General Motors or Wal Mart is a business.  The purpose of a business – shareholders aside for a moment – is to make money, thus enabling them to stay in business and even grow the business. Colleges have huge campuses and even huger payrolls to meet.  They will do what it takes to get your child in and if the child learns to think critically, so much the better. But sometimes the mission gets lost in the confusion or the need to bring in income.

See you next time.


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