3 ways for the liberal arts to improve career prep

The push to prepare students for the job market is stronger than ever, but many institutions still struggle to train students for life after graduation, writes Mark Peltz for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

To better prepare students for post-college life, one area colleges must improve is the career center, argues Peltz, the dean of careers, life, and service at Grinnell College.

Gallup and Purdue recently released a survey of more than 11,000 students who graduated with a bachelor's degree between 2010 and 2016. According to the survey, only 17% of respondents considered their institution's career center "very helpful."

Peltz identified three questions leaders must ask to improve their institution's career services.

1: What should a college education include?

Institutions today have a responsibility to help students succeed not only in the classroom, but also in the working world, notes Peltz.

Grinnell is already revamping its career preparation offerings by assigning every new student a dedicated career center adviser, and establishing career-focused communities that offer students specialized advising and networking opportunities, he notes.

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2: Why are students opting out of career services?

According to the Gallup-Purdue poll, about 61% of respondents visited a career center at least once during their tenure. Although this number signals an improvement across the past few decades, this leaves a large number of students (39%) who never once visited a career center, reports Peltz.

Students who aren't vising the career center may be unaware of what the career center actually offers, writes Peltz. Administrators should specifically focus on students who are underrepresented in higher education or who are first-generation and encourage them to take advantage of the career center, he explains.

3: Can your career center handle student demand?

Career centers often lack the staffing and resources to effectively meet student demand, writes Peltz.

According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a single career center adviser had an average of 2,917 students in 2016. But career-minded prospective students will likely gravitate towards centers with shorter appointment wait times, access to resources, and smaller student-to-career adviser ratios, he notes.

Redesign academic programs to meet student demand

Although these challenges may feel insurmountable, many institutions have already begun to find ways to better prepare students for post-college life, writes Peltz.

For example, Wellesley College launched new mentoring programs and experimental-learning initiatives in 2015, he notes. Similarly, University of Chicago's Jeff Metcalf Internship program now offers 2,000 paid internships for its undergraduates. 

Ultimately, the goal of any higher ed institution should be to prepare students to succeed both in their life and their career, argues Peltz (Peltz, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/19). 

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