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30
Aug
2017

The Ultimate Life Experience: Preparing Students for the World Beyond the Classroom

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Reviewed by Chris Friend and Sean Hackney
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Day Jobs” by Thomas Hawk; CC BY-NC 2.0

The Purpose of Education

This article is part of a series that questions and attempts to clarify the overall goal of public education. Responses to this call investigate how the nature and intentions of higher ed have changed over time. The discussion is ongoing — see all articles in this series or the original call for papers that prompted them and consider adding your voice to the conversation.

There needs to be a general reshaping of how college is viewed and how colleges act. There is an epidemic going on right now. Students invest a massive amount of funds and massive amounts of time into college, and when they finally graduate, many can’t find a job. According to an article written for Economic Policy Institute, an economic think tank based in Washington D.C., the unemployment rate for young college graduates is above 7% and the underemployment rate is an astounding 14.9%. Generation Opportunity, a network with a focus on promoting economic growth for the millennial generation, writes that in 2014 nearly 70% of students graduated with student debt, with an average of $30,000 a person. According to Market Watch, a leading financial news website, student debt has reached over 1.4 trillion dollars and is rising at a steady and scary rate. Gaining employment is not the only reason for going to college, and it is not the only thing a student gains from the experience, but preparing a student for the life after college must be the focus for attaining a great future.

Sanford C. Shugart, President of Valencia College, ranked highest among U.S. community colleges by the Aspen Institute, writes that colleges have to view themselves as the bridge, not the destination. Colleges have to shift their focus from what is best for the college to what is best for the student. Colleges often get lost in trying to give their students the ultimate college experience, and the experience should be great. The main goal should be that when the student tosses their graduation cap in the air, he or she has the tools necessary to succeed after they leave college and a major part of this is gaining employment after college through the skills and experiences learned throughout college. By helping the students gain employment after college they are being aided in implementing all the other lessons and skills that are being acquired through the college experience.

We are three students attending Queens College in Queens, New York. One of us is a psychology major, one is working towards finishing the courses necessary to become a teacher, and the other is an undecided freshman. Even coming from such different backgrounds, we all share the fear that we will have trouble gaining employment after this massive investment of both time and money. Students, teachers and colleges can work together to best prepare students for the workplace and thereby give every student the best chance to gain and retain employment once out of college. We believe that hands-on work experience, mentoring relationships between students and professors, and skills training can promote student success, during and after college.

#1: Aid Students in Finding Jobs and Internships During College

College is a time of juggling multiple tasks with energy and efficiency as a student prepares for the future. Of these tasks, finding and maintaining a job or an internship (sometimes both) while attending college lectures, allows for a student to build a great set of skills necessary for their success after college. In Consider Pros and Cons of Working in College, Debbie Kaylor, director of the Boise State University Career Center, states that a job while in college is “an opportunity to develop professional skills that employers will be expecting upon graduation. When employers recruit new college grads, they are not only looking for a major, but they are looking for a skillset.” Maintaining a job during college, whether in the student’s field of study or otherwise, can be extremely beneficial. Working steady hours, even if it’s not full time, helps build the student’s work ethic and builds the skills necessary to succeed in today’s marketplace after college.

Working during college, like in paid internships, for example, gives students a buffer zone where they can acclimate to the work environment. In “It’s a Tough Job Market for the Young Without College Degrees,” Patricia Cohen, an economics reporter for The New York Times, discusses how experience plays a large role in the hiring process. There are career services available in most colleges to guide students through the process, but often the students are not aware of the opportunities. The available services should be explained in regular meetings that students have with their advisors every semester. Coming out of college, if students have held internships and have established experience, they will have an easier time getting hired. Often, students don’t know where to start in terms of getting an internship; they don’t realize that it is an option or that it’s important for their future, and even when they approach Career Services, the office is overwhelmed, with very few employees trying to help—in most cases—several thousand students.

Colleges should devote more resources to career services, so that their students can better find internships and gain work experience. For example, Queens College has a career services department on campus which is set up to help students in need of guidance. The career center at Queens College makes students privy to available positions and particular employers that are seeking prospective employees. Beginning in the preliminary stages of higher education, advisors can show students the importance of getting a job or internship and help them attain one. And it is the college’s responsibility to put teachers in a position where they can do so.

Good teachers offer a lot of support to students, which helps them feel empowered. That feeling will guide them in making a good resume and searching for internships or jobs. Working with teachers and advisors can help a student obtain many opportunities, such as internships in the field they want to work in the future. These internships can help them become candidates for job openings in that field. They will also guide students in presenting themselves to companies for interviews, such as advising them on what to wear, how to talk to someone in their field, and what to exactly address in an interview.

#2: Befriend a Teacher and Gain a Mentor

We believe that mentoring relationships between students and professors can promote student success. In his book How to Win at College, Dr. Cal Newport explains that “mentors are aware of your overall academic plan, your life goals, your concerns, and your triumphs” (22). A mentor, teacher, or advisor can be there as a helpful source or even as a friend. Students should be informed, early on in their college career, that it is their responsibility to reach out to a professor or advisor. Advisors working a good amount of office hours are important, being that most students usually need the extra help before they make important decisions throughout their college experience. Students can cultivate a mentoring relationship by informing their mentor of their goals, plans, and concerns. Professors or advisors will be helpful in return by writing a recommendation, delivering motivational speeches, and giving experienced advice.

A teacher or mentor who is dedicated to guiding the student in getting internships, in getting jobs, and in gaining skills, can really help make a massive impact on the student’s future. Once connections are made in the internship field, it is easier to get a job after graduation. Many companies today use internships to find themselves valuable employees that are getting trained the way they want and giving them a starting salary that is low to the company. Not only will students in internships gain a job, but they’ll also get experience that will lead them into higher positions in the company.

Mentoring relationships are important because they can help students with little things such as finding a job after an internship. Whether it be advisors or professors they can help by having a student get a good job which can be their starting point for their career. This point is made in Hybrid Pedagogy’s article “Pedagogical Training via Relationship Building: The Value of Peer Mentoring,” where Estee Beck and Mariana Grohowski talk about how students gained a lot of help from their mentors including faculty and peers. Beck and Grohowski state,

“We visualize peers approaching such spaces with respect and curiosity in mind—a willingness to authentically learn from another, as vested partners in each other’s growth and success—much like the relationship of student and teacher in student-driven participatory design.”

These lines bring up the same point we are presenting: A teacher-student relationship can be beneficial by getting new teachings or advice from mentors. Teachers or advisors have many connections outside and most of all they have experience. They can guide students in telling them where to go for a job and how things go according to the workplace. This job can make them financially stable as well. Since students often have extreme college debt, they can be helped by getting a job as soon as they’re out of college so they can earn good money. How wonderful would it be for a student to come out of college debt free, being able to earn money for themselves instead of earning money to pay off student loans? Students would be able to perform well in their jobs without any sort of pressure or stress of paying back all student loans.

One of us had a good experience with teachers in high school, especially with a tenth-grade math teacher who always pushed her to work hard and to not give up—not only in math, but in everything in life. She offered tips for college and life, and even today we remain in contact. Another one of us has come to realize how teachers and advisors did not guide her through the right channels at a crucial time, which could have been helpful in making the college and career easier. Instead, she is returning to college at the age of 43, finally realizing how beneficial college would have been in terms of getting hired and earning a higher salary. The reality of it was that even if she had more experience and was more qualified at her job, it didn’t matter. She would never go up the corporate ladder without the college education. The sad part of this is that for many years she felt unaccomplished and had to struggle and work harder at her job to prove that she could do it. A teacher’s guidance can make a big difference: While one of us got guidance and is obtaining her bachelor’s degree on time, the other is obtaining it later in life and facing additional challenges.

#3: Identify and Incorporate the Skills Necessary to Succeed in Today’s Workplace

There is a growing workforce around us, and we will find that essential skills are needed to contribute and succeed.  In How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management”, David A. Garvin, who teaches at the Harvard Business School, talks about how Google is looking to hire changemakers and innovators:

“Google gives its rank and file room to make decisions and innovate. Along with that freedom comes a greater respect for technical expertise, skillful problem solving, and formal authority. Given the overall indifference to pecking order, anyone making a case for change at the company needs to provide compelling logic and rich supporting data.”

Garvin is saying that important skills are needed—such as being familiar with latest technology, problem solving, and creativity. Teachers can help students develop these kinds of skills when they’re in high school or college. An example of this can be shown when teachers assign students group projects to work on so they can find themselves in a position where they can work with their peers. That kind of project will reflect on them in the future when they are working with others they have to deal with in a work environment. Teachers can help students learn the kinds of skills Garvin looks for—decision-making, creative problem-solving, respect for expertise, logical and evidence-based thinking—that will help them in both the classroom and in their future careers.

Students leave today’s colleges with a wealth of knowledge and a great experience, and both of these things are very important. There is another side though. Students pump massive amounts of resources into higher education. Many do this with the hope that their investment will aid them in getting a better job than they otherwise could. Many graduates struggle to succeed in today’s unforgiving workforce. Some might argue that many students do not have the knowledge or experience necessary to accomplish this because they are so focused on their future and obtaining internships that it reflects on their grades. Mentors provide the student with a bridge into the field they wish to enter, so they know what will be expected of them in their future jobs. Internships and jobs during school give the students the experience and the work ethic necessary to succeed in the full-time arena. Along with developing skills for any job position, a student must also get the life experience. This experience includes preparing for the world outside of the classroom. Sometimes teachers have leniency towards students who are late or don’t submit an assignment, but that may not happen in a work environment towards an employee who arrived late to their workplace or did not submit an assignment. By teachers putting more focus into developing skills that will aid the student in the workforce, they can help prepare the students for their future after college.

While what we have suggested will not make an immediate, major dent in the larger issues, these tips have the potential to have a massive effect on the individual student’s future. There are many other important things one can gain from college aside from a job, nevertheless meaningful employment aids in the student’s ability to better apply the other skills he or she has learned and gained from college. It is very hard to do a lot of what a student may want to do outside of their work to improve society when the student has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. By helping students gain employment after college, schools can ensure that students graduate with a path towards financial independence, prepared with the knowledge and skills to achieve their dreams and improve society.

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