Preparing Today’s Students For Tomorrow’s Jobs


Classes have been in session at the college where I teach for just over a week. I’ve already talked to a freshman planning his courses for the next four years (his aim: medical school) and a senior about how to start applying to graduate school (take the GRE first? which programs? should she get work experience first?). What happens after college is very much on students’ minds — leading me to ask myself, are we doing enough to help our students get to where they dream of being?

According to Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, more than half of the the nearly 50 million jobs expected to be created by 2018 will require a postsecondary credential. Jeffery Selingo, editorial director of the Chronicle For Higher Education, offers some suggestions for how colleges and universities could better prepare students “to succeed in jobs that have yet to be created,” by taking a hard look at the majors they offer and being more upfront about what students do after graduation.

Colleges, says Selingo, need to do some hard thinking about the majors offered to students and about advising students about their majors. In particular, they should do the opposite of what many schools currently do, which is to create new majors and programs in the hopes of attracting more students. Says Selingo:

Colleges are great at creating new programs in response to growth areas in the economy, but not so good at eliminating those programs when demand falls. And in a dynamic economy, it actually seems shortsighted to respond to every new hot job by building an expensive new academic program rather than offer gateway majors that help students learn how to learn for the jobs that don’t yet exist.

Colleges need to do more to help students pick a major and recognize that “most 18-year-olds have no idea what they want to be when they grow up.” As Selingo says, too often students are forced, or feel forced, (by administrators wanting to make sure every student has some “official” idea of what they are studying as early as possible) to pick a major even before they’ve had one college class.

Says Selingo:

In recent years, colleges have seen an uptick in multiple majors and in “wasted credits” as students have added and switched majors in an attempt to figure out what they want to do.

Could academic programs be designed in a way that allows students to sample courses across a range of disciplines yet graduate on time? And should colleges be required to provide more advice and career information, including such things as earnings by major, before students pick their course of study?

Selingo also suggests that colleges should conduct workplace surveys to get a clearer idea of what students do after graduation and then share that data with faculty members and prospective parents and students. I can see colleges “preferring not” to proffer such data and stick to providing information about specific “star” students’ successful stories, and vague lists of “what you can do with an English major.” But a more comprehensive survey of students — noting how students with certain majors fared — could give students a better understanding of what the end result of their major and studies will be.

I’m intrigued by Selingo’s mention of “gateway majors that help students learn how to learn for the jobs that don’t yet exist.” He doesn’t further qualify what he means; I’ll hazard that some skills that students might find useful to apply in many different employment settings include critical thinking skills, strong writing and communication skills and the ability to learn on their own and adapt to rapid change. I’m a bit biased as I teach in a foreign language department, but I think it can only benefit students to have real proficiency in another language, such as Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. Students shrug when I say this and point out that “everyone else knows English anyways” but I think we’re missing a lot by not knowing what’s being said in languages other than English.

What do you think are skills and knowledge that could help students “learn how to learn for the jobs that don’t yet exist”?


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Photo by pjohnkeane


Christopher M.
Christopher M.4 years ago

For example I have at least 12 years experience in IT, almost 11 years with the first company. That is three times as long as the traditional four-year stay in college.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.4 years ago

One big thing. We have experience in the field and you recent grads are competing against us. You might be cheaper, but we are better.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.4 years ago

I'd keep the "education" in college but I'd beef up the skills (esp computer skills) and add some experience (for free if necessary).

I'd like to work in the Federal government rating colleges and universities for their in-field employment statistics, which should be publicized, by major, in the Free Application Form for Student Aid and sorted in descending order by required education completed. .

Ouch. Blood and red ink will run.

Ann G.
Ann G.5 years ago

This is a ridiculously simple idea that could really make a difference. I'm not in college, but I know that there are many people who could benefit from a more relaxed approach. Thanks for posting!

jasna gonda
jasna gonda5 years ago

I agree with Tysu J.

Brian M.
Past Member 5 years ago

Given the extent to which Republican administrations have gutted spending on education at state and local levels, clearly the only future many American students have is picking crops.

Joe Shults
Joe Shults5 years ago

Education for the Obama jobs -- Most that I have heard for future job creation is shovel-ready construction. One does not need a college ed for this type of job. Unless this type of thinking changes, one will not need an education to work. I hope it does change.

Walter G.
Walter G.5 years ago

And just what 'jobs' would those be? Learn to speak Chinese early, avoid the rush!

JohnMichael Robinson

As (relatively) recent graduate- the degree does not do a lot of good if the jobs simply are not there.

Ernest R.
Ernest R.5 years ago

Most intelligent observers believe the US is in for about ten more years of recession. That is enough time for business that needs to make a profit to find even more technological ways to reduce its greatest expense, labor.. By then the only likely jobs will be in producing more clever robots to replace the few remaining employees. Then, only the super rich will be able to buy anything produced with the few remaining resources. What happens to the rest of the overpopulation ? Your guess is as good as mine..