The Future of Higher Education in North America

In 2011 Boyer Management Group published a whitepaper entitled, A Market Acceptance Study of The Graduate Employment Preparedness Assessment™ (you may preview our whitepaper abstract here). The study was conducted with more than 130 undergraduate and graduate students from Cairn University in the Philadelphia suburb of Langhorne, PA. The study population included multiple majors, all levels from freshman to post-graduate students, students from all parts of the US and several foreign countries, and reflected a typical demographic most colleges and universities would find reflective in their own population.

One of the key findings in the study was that colleges and universities must do a significantly better job of connecting their students to post-collegiate employment. 98.9% of students who participated in the study agreed or strongly agreed that employment following their graduation was their Number One objective.

Student attitudes about their readiness to conduct a career search were quite revealing, as reflecting in the graph above. Subsequent testing by Boyer Management Group revealed that students were not nearly as ready and prepared to conduct a career search as they thought they were (this finding was also validated by independent studies conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers). A key factor affecting college enrollment today is the mounting concern about how well the student will be prepared by the school for his or her eventual career search.

Consider how the 131 participants in the study answered several questions related to how a college or university chose to treat the area of career search education:

  • 100.00% stated that their choice of a college or university would be impacted by its success in placing its graduates into jobs.
  • 96.9% agreed that if all other things were equal, they would select the college or university that taught career search preparedness as part of its curriculum, over ones that did not.
  • 93.8% said that career search education should be a graduation requirement.

In April 2012 a study of US government data by the Associated Press found that “53.6 percent of bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed.” Many college students are graduating with significant student loans which must be paid back within months of graduation. And the cost of attaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree continues to rise. No wonder the pressure is increasing on educational institutions to better connect their graduates to post-college employment!

For the most part career preparedness is student-driven. Students are invited to participate in career services events, and career services staff may be invited to speak in a class or two during the student’s academic career. Our research shows that by the time the student is ready to graduate and seek employment, he or she has had fewer than eight hours of career search education. This is woefully inadequate to properly equip the student for career search success.

There are some colleges and universities that are beginning to “get it” when it comes to teaching students career search education. For example, Virginia College (www.vc.edu) requires most graduates from its 30-plus campuses throughout the Southeastern US to complete a 4 credit career development course, generally toward the end of their academic studies. Their program is 44 classroom hours and utilizes the GEPA Assessment at the beginning of the course to measure what a student knows about the current and emerging best practices in career search. The GEPA Assessment is used a second time toward the end of the course as a final exam to measure learning outcomes.

I do not believe that colleges and universities can afford to sit on the sidelines and allow the career search process continue to be largely student-driven. It is in the best interests of both the students and higher education to implement career search curriculum in order to give tomorrow’s graduates a better skill set to secure employment of choice.

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