How many people have a job @graduation?

On college campuses across the country it’s ‘conversion’ time; next level marketing to the chosen to turn them into the enrolled. How do you differentiate between alternatives? If you take the commodity approach, it’s all about guaranteed employment. Here’s the thing – there are no guarantees.

It’s reasonable to consider post-grad employment when you’re investing a significant amount of money in a college degree. But that’s what it is, an investment, not a purchase. For the student, ‘attending’ college is not a passive act, it’s a full-time commitment. The ROI is a direct result of the effort, not dollars expended.

Former Cornell University president and current AAU president, Hunter Rawlings weighed in on the value of college debate last spring.

“A college education, then, if it is a commodity, is no car. The courses the student decides to take (and not take), the amount of work the student does, the intellectual curiosity the student exhibits, her participation in class, his focus and determination — all contribute far more to her educational “outcome” than the college’s overall curriculum, much less its amenities and social life. Yet most public discussion of higher ed today pretends that students simply receive their education from colleges the way a person walks out of Best Buy with a television.”  

When you ask the question ‘How many students are employed at graduation?’ you’re asking about the resale value of the car.

No one in today’s job market is guaranteed work. Any individual who believes their institutional pedigree will stand alone to open career doors is delusional.

The level of student engagement in internships, research, community service and extra-curricular activities, combined with faculty, staff and alumni connections, are far better predictors of post-grad success than destination survey statistics.

The question to ask is ‘What are the resources available to assist students seeking work?’ The ‘support’ assets are the constant in a volatile job market. Access to this ‘capital’ is the true measure of a university’s commitment to post-grad employment.



When choosing a college, ask ‘Who will I become?’

The questions we ask when selecting an undergraduate or graduate program focus on the financial and vocational. What will it cost? Will I get a job when I graduate? What we miss is the critical question. Who will I become?

It’s not a question just for philosophy majors.

Each university community is a micro culture defined by traditions, behaviors and beliefs. Even the most jaded will be transformed by the experience. That’s why imagining your selfie in four years is as important as financial and career planning.

The Atlantic’s senior editor, Derek Thompson acknowledged this developmental progression when he examined the impact of college choice on future success.

“While hundreds of thousands of 17- and 18-year-olds sit around worrying that a decision by a room of strangers is about to change their lives forever, the truer thing is that their lives have already been shaped decisively by the sum of their own past decisions—the habits developed, the friends made, and the challenges overcome. Where you go to college does matter, because it’s often an accurate measure of the person you’re becoming.”

If you accept that college is a point on the developmental continuum, your challenge is to find a place where your past intersects with your optimal opportunity for continued growth.

If place defines you, it’s a campus where you’ll discover the gaps in your experience and explore every possible resource to fill in the blanks. Networking will not be an abstract process for job search, but a four year active engagement with faculty, administrators and colleagues.

Your future is not determined by the decision of an admissions committee, but by the sum of your individual decisions over time, and who you will become.








Recapture the global imagination

‘The whole world is going to university’ is the cover story in the March 28 issue of The Economist. In the special report ‘Excellence v Equity’, a series of articles examines the current state of global higher education beginning with a thumbnail summary of its’ history to date:

“The modern research university, a marriage of the Oxbridge college and the German research institute, was invented in America, and has become the gold standard for the world. Mass higher education started in America in the 19th century, spread to Europe and East Asia in the 20th and is now happening pretty much everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa.”

According to the report, we question of the value of university today because of the tension between research and teaching, and between excellence and equity.

Why the tension between research and teaching? Why are these written about as if they were mutually exclusive activities?

Let’s look at it from the perspective of the work and compensation. A tenure track faculty member is rewarded for research and publications. The percentage of compensation dependent on teaching is only a small part of his or her package. So where would you put your effort? You set your priorities on advancement and compensation.

The skill set of a researcher is not always the same as a great teacher. It’s the rare faculty member who can combine the talents  of research, emotional intelligence and public speaking. On a large research university campus you can probably name 10-20 and these are the classes students place at the top of their list.

To address this, universities spend significant effort working with aspiring faculty who serve as teaching assistants to help them develop their  skills in public speaking and curriculum development. In many cases you are forcing a size 12 foot into a glass slipper.

The tension comes from the culture where teaching and research are not equally valued.

Why can’t we have ‘master’ teachers exist next to researchers in a partnership that clearly articulates research results, identifies ‘real world’ applications and motivates students to dig deeper?

There are many articles and opinion pieces that have circulated recently confirming the belief that adjunct faculty are viewed as ‘second-class’. This is not healthy for an institution advertising itself as ‘world class.’ A university benefits from a faculty that is diverse and combines research with practical application.

The second point of tension identified in the article is between excellence and equity.

How do we determine excellence in higher education? How are we to compare institutions?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article in The New Yorker magazine in 2011, ‘The Order of Things: What college rankings really tell us.’ In it he tries to demystify the college ranking system. And he finds “There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution – how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students.” He finds the ‘proxy’ measures used by U.S. News to be lacking. He is particularly critical of comparing universities with missions to serve a wide range of students to those who are more selective. “Rankings are not benign. They enshrine very particular ideologies, and, at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de-facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of these factors.”

The larger consequence of this process results in employer recruiting behavior that targets graduates of the most highly selective universities, ignoring the potential candidates who might be a better ‘fit’, congratulating themselves in annual reports for their ‘elite’ candidate pool.

How we value higher education is about how we value the people in a university community: faculty, students, administrators and alumni. Leaders in higher education should step back an reevaluate what it is that makes their community unique. Have the courage to ignore the ratings and compete with the talent and resources they have to articulate a clear vision of their place in society. Create a place of work, study and research that anticipates global problems and is situated to be the first responder with solutions. Recapture the global imagination.

An inclination to learn from life – the value of college

College presidents used to be the influential, ‘thought leaders’ of their time, consulted by heads of state and corporate CEOs. It’s the rare college leader who steps out today and takes a stand amid the conflicting pressures of donor interests, state legislatures and government regulation.

In 2007 Michael S. Roth became president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Five years later he wrote an opinion in The New York Times with the title ‘Learning as Freedom’. In it he borrows heavily from the writings of John Dewey, an early twentieth century philosopher and leader in education reform.

At this time of year when students are deciding where to attend college amid a growing conversation on the value of college, it’s refreshing to take a step back into history and revisit the ideas of those who defined American higher education.

President Roth asks the question, “Who wants to attend school to learn to be ‘human capital’ ? Who aspires for their children to become economic or military resources?”

Why do we attend college? For Dewey “…schools first and foremost should teach us habits of learning…these habits included awareness of our interdependence; nobody is an expert on everything. He emphasized ‘plasticity’, an openness to being shaped by experience: “The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.”

President Roth concludes,“Dewey’s insight that learning in the process of living is the deepest form of freedom. In a nation that aspires to democracy, that’s what education is primarily for: the cultivation of freedom within society…Higher education’s highest purpose is to give all citizens the opportunity to find ‘large and human significance’ in their lives and work.”

For high school seniors, this is an important message. For the past twelve years of education your struggles are about to be rewarded with an invite to attend the college of your choice. But what about life after admission?

Frank Bruni gives voice to the concern that it’s all about the process in his article ‘How to Survive the College Admissions Madness’. “College is a singular opportunity to rummage through and luxuriate in ideas, to realize how very large the world is and to contemplate your desired place in it. And that’s lost in the admissions mania, which sends the message that college is a sanctum to be breached – a border to be crossed – rather than a land to be inhabited and tilled for all that it’s worth.”

Look beyond the letter and imagine who you’ll be a year from now. Where will you best exercise your inclination to learn from life?