Here's why your grads are underemployed—and how you can fix it

Stop forcing them to choose between liberal arts and career training

Caroline Hopkins, Staff WriterCaroline Hopkins, Staff Writer

Only 11% of business leaders strongly agree that today's college graduates are prepared to succeed in the workplace. 

One way to reverse this trend is to make a stronger connection between the curriculum and professional development, EAB Practice Manager Colin Koproske argued in a presentation at the recent CONNECTED conference.

Koproske highlighted three tactics that schools are using to embed professional development into the academic curriculum.

1: Put career prep on the map

Queen's University's co-curricular maps help students select majors that align with their academic and professional ambitions.

For each major, students receive a map outlining the appropriate timeline for completing academic requirements and career-related experiences. The design of the map sends a clear message that professional development is just as important as academic courses.

For example, career-related experiences are just as large on the map as academic courses, and a prominent banner encourages students to consider an internship. Each map also offers a list of 30 or more potential careers for each major and a list of technical and soft skills that students can expect to acquire by studying that major.

The best structures for your co-op and internship programs

2: Restructure Services

Sometimes the answer is to reorganize reporting lines or physically move the location of the career office to encourage official and unofficial collaboration. For example:

  • The University of Wyoming (UWYO) placed the career counseling and academic advising centers side-by-side. Though UWYO's shift involves no internal integration, Koproske noted how the move creates a natural partnership. The co-located offices boost each other's visibility and allow for seamless referrals.
  • Agnes Scott College has combined the two offices under one shared board of advisors. The board consists of professional, academic, and peer counselors, all of whom share data and refer students to one another. The offices share programming structures and protocols.
  • James Madison University (JMU) has gone a step farther and completely merged academic advising and career services into a single office. JMU advising staff receive cross-training in both academic and career support. Advisors discuss academic and career planning with students simultaneously, encouraging students to see them as two sides of the same coin. 

Overcome the barriers to shared services

3: Teach students to speak 'resume'

Curriculum and career development aren't fully integrated unless students can fluently translate between them, Koproske said.

Unfortunately, students often struggle to articulate the workplace value of their studies and the academic value of their professional experiences.

Koproske cited the ways several schools are addressing this communication gap before, during, and after a student's internship or co-op.

Before:

  • Connecticut College offers pre-internship career workshop series;
  • Northeastern University requires co-op preparation courses that teach professional skills; and
  • Portland State University offers online courses on the National Association of Colleges and Employers' competencies.

During:

  • Faculty members at Endicott College visit internship and co-op locations;
  • Students at Antioch College take an online portfolio development course alongside their co-op; and
  • Students at Northeastern fill out inquiries about their experience in combination with a faculty advisor.

After:

  • George Mason University students participate in a full assessment with their employers;
  • Drexel University students fill out self-reflection pieces that their employers then evaluate; and
  • Northeastern students sit down with their employers to discuss their post-work learning outcomes.

Two more ways to integrate professional development into the liberal arts


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