From Andy Chan, Vice President of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem:
Last week, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory said there’s a major disconnect between what skills are taught at the state’s public universities and what businesses want out of college graduates. The governor is partially correct. But the disconnect is not due to course of study; the problem is that most colleges and universities do not effectively provide student career development programs required for successful short and long-term employment. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, rather than investing in students, colleges are cutting career development resources by an average of 16 percent this year.
Gov. McCrory’s incorrect assumption is that worthy jobs require a specific major in order to be secured. Across a wide range of job functions and industries, many desirable entry-level jobs for college graduates exist including account management, consulting, marketing, program and project management, analyst, research and other roles. A specific academic focus is not required to secure jobs or to be successful in these careers. The thousands of employers who recruit college students seek to recruit the best candidate possible – from any major.
For some reason, politicians and other “experts” are obsessed with the concept that your college choice of major translates into a direct line to a job. Many successful people in the world would argue that their choice of major was not directly connected to their first job or even their overall career path.
Some predict that college students will have up to 29 different jobs over their lifetime, and that the most popular jobs four years from now do not even exist today. In today’s increasingly dynamic and competitive global market, students must be prepared to secure their first of many jobs, and be even more prepared for a lifetime of transition, with a mindset, spirit and skills to be flexible, adaptable, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial. The liberal arts education – where students experience a diverse set of disciplines and methods of thought including literature, history, math, psychology, science and more – prepares students in this way.
Under the leadership of President Nathan Hatch, Wake Forest has intentionally invested in students’ personal, career and professional development, which is now a central component of the college experience. Over $8.5 million has been raised largely from parents who believe in our mission to educate the whole person – and the investment is paying off. We know it is working: 95 percent of 2012 Wake Forest graduates who responded to our annual destination survey were employed or in graduate school within six months after graduation. Additionally, 31 percent of our graduates remain in North Carolina.
I’d like to ask our politicians and critics of higher education and the liberal arts to focus on the need to educate and support students in their quest to connect their college experience with their careers. Let’s work together – public and private universities and colleges, politicians, employers and educators – to provide students more instruction and guidance to navigate the path from college to career. Only then will our state’s students be significantly more capable of securing and creating gainful employment during and after college, as well as throughout their lives.