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.
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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