Why one university is promising employment for every grad—guaranteed

It's no secret that students and families are increasingly focused on the return they get from their investment in higher education. And they're measuring that return by their employment outcomes: if students achieve their goals in the job market, they feel the cost of tuition is worth it. And vice versa.

While pressure on colleges and universities to prepare graduates for the job market is stronger than ever, some students and parents remain skeptical that institutions are pulling their weight, Doug Lederman writes for Inside Higher Ed.

And many seem to feel that a liberal arts degree "preclude[s] the possibility of ever getting a job," says Mark McCoy, the president at DePauw University, a liberal arts institution in Indiana.

To win over skeptics and reassert the value of liberal arts, DePauw has rolled out the Gold Commitment, a program that guarantees every graduate a "successful launch" into post-grad life, Lederman reports.

How the Gold Commitment works

For any student who doesn't have an entry-level position or acceptance into grad school within six months of graduation, DePauw, their alumni network, and employer partners will find students a full-time entry level position or offer another semester tuition-free.

To be eligible for the program, students have to meet certain academic and behavioral requirements, writes Lederman. Next fall, commitment advisors will guide students through the experiences they must complete to qualify for the program and set themselves up for post-grad success. The experiences include finishing in four years and participating in a co-curricular center at the university, he adds. All student involvement will be tracked through a software system, he notes.

For DePauw, fulfilling its post-grad outcome guarantee is "not a huge lift," Lederman points out. Roughly 95% of their graduates land a relevant job or a seat in grad school within six months of earning their bachelor's degree, he reports. Among DePauw's typical graduating class of 500 students, only 5%, or about 25 students, won't have a job lined up after six months, he writes.

4 things graduating students can do now to land a job before summer

DePauw's post-grad outcomes are pretty good—but they haven't been good enough to win over some skeptical parents who are concerned that liberal arts won't help students land their first job, says McCoy. The Gold Commitment doesn't fundamentally change DePauw's liberal arts education, but it does signal to prospective applicants and families that the institution "has skin in the game" and will ensure every student experiences post-grad success, he adds. 

DePauw isn't the only institution trying to win over those skeptical of a college degree's value. Many people feel that the purpose of higher ed is "jobs, jobs, jobs," says Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education. People have difficulty identifying other reasons to pursue a degree other than employment, he adds. According to Hartle, higher ed institutions need to be more explicit about the other ways higher ed helps students build successful lives.

How other colleges boost liberal arts career outcomes

  • Thomas College runs a Guaranteed Job Program for eligible students who don't have a job six months after graduation. For unemployed graduates, the institution will make monthly payments to their federally subsidized student loans for up to year or offer six graduate courses tuition-free, writes Lederman.
  • After seeing declines in their English program, Susquehanna University launched several professionally oriented minors based on alumni career outcomes. One of these, the Publishing and Editing minor, was so popular that they ultimately repackaged it into a full major by adding an internship requirement and other updates to the curriculum. The new major has been extremely successful, helping to increase English enrollments by 80% in just two years.
  • Carleton College hired more career counselors and assigned each student a liberal arts advisor who helps with career development. The alumni board began working with students early in their college careers to identify their interests and align them to potential careers. Finally, the career center assigned each academic department a committee of faculty representatives and career center liaisons.

(Lederman, Inside Higher Ed, 3/13).

Related: How Susquehanna University added career prep to their English program


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