The transition from high school to college to early employment is crucial in career development. A successful transition depends on maturity, being able to prioritize learning while becoming more self and socially aware. In Aspiring Adults Adrift, the authors take their study (started in Academically Adrift) further to understand the lives of early career professionals soon after graduating from college.
College graduates are still having a difficult time finding satisfying employment. In a recent article in HBR, a study points out that employees also recognize the existence of a skills gap – something employers have been talking about for the last couple years[i].
Internships, apprenticeships, and volunteering lead to greater employment possibilities and are becoming fundamental as employers and colleges work to close the skills gap. This type of work relationship is good for a few reasons. First, students practice skills as they learn them in the classroom. Second, students explore and experiment in jobs without over committing. Third, employers influence what is being taught in the classroom. Finally, it is cheaper for employers to assess a candidate’s skill set (as opposed to a direct hire).
According to the study, students are not using their college career services to land future employment. A career center’s biggest contribution is to setup career events, where students link up with employers who have a relationship with the college. In addition, career services help students perfect their resume (and this should be moving towards an online personal brand, I argue). The Obama administration is pushing a new college rating system that makes colleges accountable for “dropout rates, earnings of graduates and affordability”[ii]. Career centers, being a bridge between employers and a college, should face an expanded role in courting employers and ensuring their graduates have the necessary skills.
One of the major themes of the book is that higher education needs to reverse the course towards consumerism and concentrate on improving academic rigor. This is challenging because of the above-mentioned college rating system. On one-side there is pressure to improve graduation rates (currently 60 percent of undergrads), and on the other-side there is pressure to get students to work harder with a more difficult curriculum. Perhaps both can be accomplished in the long-term, but would require a major change in social norms – college students showing up ready and willing to learn on day one.
Still the book makes clear a social element has its place in a college experience, for these reasons: 1) it “plays a highly stratifying role in partner selection” (even though people marry later in life); 2) it introduces students to a diverse student body; 3) it is meant to cultivate the “whole man”. Students must learn a balancing act – work commitments (studying and being in class) versus play – that exists throughout the rest of their lives.
In the eyes of graduating college students, everything is peachy. According to the study: 95 percent reported their lives would be better than those of their parents and 90 percent of seniors reported being satisfied with their college experience.
To improve learning in college, educators, policy makers, and parents are going to have to work together – make true learning the primary objective of college.
Colleges and universities thus have a responsibility to address the lack of academic rigor and limited learning we have reported… Consumer satisfaction is not a worthy aim for colleges and universities.
What I like about this book is it speaks the truth of the average college student. It is something I can surely relate to with my college experience. For many, the social experience is overwhelming. We get tunnel vision about earning a credential – the degree – rather than actual learning and building skills needed for a career. In Paying for the Party, two sociologists study women in a public college and come up with similar conclusions. Speaking about partying is taboo because there are deep privacy and trust concerns within a circle of friends (and we all grow up at different times). But I am not suggesting changing the social scene. My suggestion is to treat college from the beginning like a job: you do the necessary work, spend the time, and meet a learning expectation, and then are free to do as you please. In my opinion, it all comes down to: time management, learning commitment , self-control, self-awareness, and social awareness.
Richard Arum and Josipa Roska. Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. (University of College Press, Chicago 2014)