Time For College Leaders To Step Up

Some college leaders seem to believe that issues such as college costs, student debt, learning outcomes, and placement rates for graduates are sensationalized by the media and not nearly as serious and important as they are made out to be. (Maxwell, Dr. David, President, Drake University, “Time to Play Offense”, Inside Higher Education, 2/4/13).

When parents and students have both made sacrifices and borrowed mightily to finance the student’s college education, how can college leaders trivialize or ignore the fact that students typically must pay back $25,000 to $100,000 in college loans and credit card debt? Furthermore, parents with more than one child have probably done one or more of the following to cover college costs and related expenses: 1) Taken out personal loans, 2) Borrowed against their house, 3) Increased their credit card limits, 4) Tapped into their retirement savings, 5) Postponed large purchases, repairs and vacations, and 6) Ignored needed medical and dental procedures.

Many college leaders apparently have little idea how much debt students and their parents must take on to complete a four or six year education. Does your college know exactly how much debt each student has built up by the time they graduate? Do they know how much money each parent now owes because of college expenses for their children? Try adding all of that student and parent debt together to get a total. Do your leaders express any concern? Are they doing anything about the problem? By the way, for most students, student loans are not financial aid. They are student debt that has to be paid back. If a typical student owes say $35,000, you can estimate the monthly payments for 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.

In perhaps 60+ percent of the families with two, three or four children, money is tight. Of course these families care about college costs, student debt, learning outcomes, and placement rates for graduates. Parents want their children to graduate with job offers that will enable them to live independently, take care of their own expenses and begin to pay back the money they borrowed, and rightly so.

The preponderance of students want to graduate with a good job, ideally one in their field of study, at a salary on which they can live. To accomplish their goals, students need more help than they are receiving from most colleges today. It is time for large numbers of college leaders to wake up, step up and pay more attention to the employment needs of their financially stressed students. To effectively meet these needs, college leaders will have to mobilize and refocus their college communities, provide resources and implement methods and systems that can improve student employment results.

Ignoring such a significant issue speaks poorly of college leaders. Great college leaders put students first, take on the difficult problems and solve them. Poor leaders deceive themselves and others, put other priorities ahead of students, make excuses, shift blame, resist change and never realize how many students they have prevented from maximizing their success in the job market.

Importantly, far too many colleges fail to accumulate, analyze, utilize and share the statistics and information that will show them how well they are serving the employment needs of students. To serve students effectively, colleges must know how they are doing in areas other than academics. The factors used to evaluate student employment success and a college’s job search preparation performance can be displayed on a spreadsheet chart with the following column headings. (See Below) For columns 2 – 15, a number should be inserted for every major offered.

Student Employment Success Chart

Column 1 – “Majors” – List each major (All 60 – 100+) offered by your college.

Column 2 – “Graduates” – Number of graduates in each major?

Column 3 – “Related” – Number who accepted job offers directly related to their majors.

Column 4 – “Unrelated” – Number who accepted job offers unrelated to their majors.

Column 5 – “No Job Offer” – Number who received NO job offers by graduation.

Column 6 – “Received” – Average # of job offers received by students in each major.

Column 7 – “Percent” – Percent of students in each major receiving one or more job offers.

Column 8 – “Improvement” – Percent improvement (+) decline (-) from the previous year.

Column 9 – “Dollars” – Average $ amount of job offers received by students in each major.

Column 10 – “National” – National average $ amount offered to students in each major.

Column 11 – “Employers” – Number of employers visiting campus to recruit each major.

Column 12 – “Interviews” – Student interviews on campus for Full-Time jobs in each major.

Column 13 – “UnRel Int” – Student interviews on campus for jobs unrelated to their major.

Column 14 – “Internships” – Number of internships that were available in each major.

Column 15 – “P/T Jobs” – Number of Part-Time Jobs that were available in each major.

Note: Colleges should complete this chart as students graduate each year. Columns 3 – 9 can be resurveyed after six months (using Columns 16 – 22) to see how many additional students have been employed and how much the numbers have changed.

Column 16 – “Related” – Number who accepted job offers directly related to their majors.

Column 17 – “Unrelated” – Number who accepted job offers unrelated to their majors.

Column 18 – “No Job Offer” – Number who received NO job offers.

Column 19 – “Received” – Average # of job offers received by students in each major.

Column 20 – “Percent” – Percent of students in each major receiving one or more job offers.

Column 21 – “Improvement” – Percent improvement (+) decline (-) from the previous year.

Column 22 – “Dollars” -Average $ amount of job offers received by students in each major.

Some colleges will be uncomfortable with this tool and may refuse to use it, try to discredit it or keep the results confidential. However, great college leaders utilize analytical tools that will help them evaluate performance and make better decisions. They do not ignore or obfuscate the numbers and facts. They stay on top of them, value them and continually take steps to improve them. Smaller leaders ignore or even hide these numbers and try to shift the focus away from their college’s performance.

College leaders who only provide students with the most basic career and job search assistance seldom track their performance and can only guess how well their students are doing in the job market. It is likely that some college leaders do not want to know. At the other extreme, whenever a college leader says something like, “97% of our students are employed within six months of graduation”, it raises questions. Colleges that boast exceptionally high placement rates seldom provide any details to backup their statements. It would be interesting to know whether the statement is true, what job titles those students now hold and how much they are being paid (Would you like fries with that?).

Those college leaders either do not care what happens to their students or they are unwilling to face the truth. Such leaders are clearly ignoring the needs and wants of their students. The best leaders recognize that students do not simply attend college to obtain a good education, they need, want and expect colleges to guide them through the job search preparation process, so they can effectively compete for employment opportunities.

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