Campuses Playing the “Long Game” – or Redefining the Importance of Student Employability

I shouldn’t be surprised that opening up yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Learning section, I’d find a story titled, “Playing the Long Game” – – about how “more” [how many was not part of this story] campuses are “finding ways to connect students with career services early on. A trend is a trend if it appears in The Times!

The piece was largely focused on the new and incredibly expensive – at $16.4 million – Center for Career Services at Colgate University in central N.Y. (full disclosure, I’m a grad school alumnus from the ‘Gate, but, back when that sum might have been the budget for the entire university!).  I had heard about this new building and glad to see this gem of a structure featured. Especially when the piece focused down on the evolving national trend that finds more institutions re-thinking how they brand their career service offices and indeed, how they integrate career development within the overall mission of their academic program.

I liked a quote from the director of content strategy at NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers, which is the professional body for career service professionals in the nation). She says:  “Students are not there [at college] to get a job. Their focus is their studies and frankly,their personal life.  There’s a lot of noise competing for their attention. But it’s probably the only time in their life they are going to have access to that level of professional service, collected for them for free.”  That’s a point which is somewhat under the radar as far as “branding” goes for most higher ed institutions. Especially for those, the majority, for sure, who are not in a position to show off a new building which cost $16 million!

The gist of this story, one which I’ve been writing and talking about for the past decade, is that campuses need to address the unquestionably essential issue of fully integrating student career development into both the curricular and co-curricular program.  As this story illustrates, numerous campuses are finding creative approaches to realizing this goal.  I was consulting a few weeks ago at the University of Florida which recently unveiled its outstanding $10 million Center for Career Connections. The facility immediatley opened up new opportunities for students and faculty to blend both practical career development practices with linkages to their academic programs at home and abroad.  The Times story highlights similar initiatives at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Barnard College, Georgia State, the University of California-Irvine, and Johns Hopkins.

Concerns for preparing graduates for entering the knowledge economy and understanding economic globalization have impacted how higher education institutions educate students and align their curricula to the needs of their local, national and regional workplaces, regardless of the field of study or sector.  It’s not about the size of the career center or the fundraising prowess of a particular institution, however, it is about the vision of administrators, faculty and staff in redefining how they approach preparing their students to enter a 21st century workforce.

As the NACE executive is quoted above, it is NOT about students getting a job per se, but it IS about the way in which a campus’s assets are brought to bear upon preparing students to maximize what they learn both in and outside the classroom to foster their employability in the “long game.”

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