She Works Hard for the Money: Should Universities Do More to Prepare Students for the Workplace?

There is a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about a move by some universities and colleges to refocus their courses to better prepare students to enter the workforce.

Programs cited in the article have titles such as “Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship” at Wake Forest University and “Liberal Education and Effective Practice” at Clark University. This is an exciting trend, but as the article in the Wall Street Journal notes, there is some controversy about this approach within the education field.

Detractors will say that if Universities tailor their programs too much toward the current business environment, skills they develop may not serve them as markets change. I hear this concern and realize that there are likely many other challenges to implementing this model and I hope readers will share thoughts and concerns.

I was a Russian and International Relations double major in college. While I learned a lot and enjoyed my coursework, sometimes I wish I had also had the opportunity to receive more concrete training in critical analysis or in career-oriented skills such as project management and strategic planning.

Perhaps I chose the wrong major. While many students do not choose their majors based upon what they intend to pursue as a career, the vast majority of students are eventually forced into the harsh realities of the workplace. There are certain skills that could be beneficial for all students to learn to prepare.

I also wish I had been exposed to a wider variety of professional possibilities. Perhaps, if I had been taught to play jazz instead of classical music in school and gone to see professional jazz musicians in action, I would have been more motivated to learn about music. If I had understood that people can make a career as a marine biologist and spend time outside by the sea for their work, maybe I would have been more motivated to do better in science.

I am not advocating for schools to eliminate courses that are not applicable to any particular profession, but the idea of connecting the learning environment more with potential career opportunities is exciting.

What do you think? Do you think that Universities should offer more courses to help prepare kids to enter the workforce or do you think that one of the beauties of a college education is that it provides students with the opportunity to study and learn without those types of pressures? Did you go to a school where you learned these types of professional skills? Did you feel prepared to enter the workforce when you graduated? Do majors like computer science and engineering prepare kids more to enter the workforce than majors like English and philosophy? Or do the skills that students learn in English and philosophy translate into a wider range of potential careers? What else do you think about this new trend?

I hope you will share your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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14 Comments

Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

14 responses to “She Works Hard for the Money: Should Universities Do More to Prepare Students for the Workplace?

  1. hell no i didnt, my schoolwork and degree did not prepare me for the future, all it did was fulfill a requirement to be a employee, making more than a minimum wage jerkoff

    • Sorry to hear that. I feel like my education helped me learn how to read a lot fairly quickly and to write, which can be helpful, but a few more practical courses could have been a helpful compliment to the curriculum. Thanks for your comment!

  2. This is already happening. It is a basic confusion between job training and education, though Wake Forest seems to be trying to meld the two somehow. It might be possible. But we need to remember that you cannot teach everything in four years that every student will need for the rest of her life. It’s simply not possible. And the specific needs of specific professions are changing daily. I tend to agree strongly with Robert Hutchins that the only foolproof preparation (if there is one) for a world of change is a liberal education. Tomorrow’s students have no idea what will be “out there” when they graduate: they need to be prepared for everything, and above all be prepared to learn as they go. Thus, a broad education that provides them with critical skills and the ability to think their way through problems to possible solutions is the only plausible answer.
    But we are tending in the other direction, and we will have young people who are prepared for “careers” (read “jobs”) that simply aren’t there when they graduate — or they will find out, as they do in alarming numbers, that the job wasn’t what they thought it would be and they want to change career paths and aren’t prepared to do so. Again, the only solid preparation is a liberal education. I think your preparation was sound, and you obviously know well enough where to look to continue to grow intellectually. That’s what an education is supposed to do. If you didn’t learn about Jazz, it may not be a major problem! You can still learn. We need to accept the fact that education takes a lifetime, and the twelve years of schooling are simply the preparation for what is to come later. It shouldn’t focus on job training.That simply puts blinders on.
    Needless to say, I have blogged about this repeatedly.

    • Hi Hugh! I was hoping that you would reply to help me see the errors in my thinking. 🙂 You have some excellent points and it makes sense that you can’t teach everything in four years. But I do like the idea of trying to meld the job training and education. It could be that liberal arts schools have been doing more of this since I graduated in the mid 90’s. And of course, very few people know what they really want to do when they are 18 years old – I sure didn’t. But more exposure to a variety of professions could be helpful. I see your point about making sure that people have skills that could be applied to a variety of fields and that really makes sense. It’s funny, I have no expertise in education, but there seem to be so many interesting things going on in the education world. But I am glad that I connected with you so that I can learn as I go. Maybe you can do a guest post on my blog to lay out your thoughts on this? Just a thought. I am new to this and am not exactly sure how that works, but I think you have a lot to share.Thanks for your thoughtful comment, as always!

  3. After graduating with a literature degree, I quickly found out that nothing can prepare you to be a first-year teacher!
    As far as teaching innovation, creativity, and critical thinking–skills that would apply to many jobs–I think these are worthwhile pursuits to help prepare students for a range of careers. But it’s a hard thing to measure, and a darn hard thing to teach. I wonder what the objective measures are for the students in Wake Forest’s new program…

    • Good question. Hugh, any thoughts on what type of objective measures they might use at Wake Forest? I was thinking of something along the lines of helping students develop a strategic plan or lead a strategic planning session. Or develop a business proposal. And lots of field trips…;-) Thanks so much for joining the discussion! I was thinking that education majors in my college at least got to student teach. More activities like that woul dbe helpful. Maybe guided internships? Just a few thoughts from this non-expert. Thanks again for your comment!

  4. The answer is yes, they should, but it is up to the kids.
    I was 24 and had a job in the sack in October before graduating in May at the then largest and most prestigious accounting firm in the world – Price Waterhouse – but could not have told you one thing that CPA’s did. I was totqally clueless, didn;t even know they did taxes

    • Ha! That made me laugh, but that is exactly my point. Students flounder so much that first year out of school, which is natural, but maybe there is a way to lesson the shock. Thanks so much reading and for your comment!

  5. My University gives a lot of advice in getting internships, which I suppose is especially helpful for social science degrees (I’m doing International Relations too, but with Politics). Unfortunately most internships are only available to second years.

    • Internships could certainly be useful, but a lot of students have to work to make money over the summer, so I am not sure they are the only answer. Internships during the school year that are combined with time in a classroom could be very beneficial! Is that the type of internship you are referring to? I don’t feel like my school emphasized internships very much, although maybe internship opportunities weren’t as prevalent when I was in school. Thanks so much for your comment!

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