Press "Enter" to skip to content

For graduates to thrive, career readiness cannot be separate from curricula

The majority of students pursue a college degree in order to one day use the skills they learn at school to start a career and achieve financial independence. This seems obvious and relatable to many prospective graduates, but there is one problem. According to research by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, only about 60% of executives and hiring managers believe that the majority of college graduates are ready for entry-level positions. Graduates should not be satisfied with almost 40% of these employers lacking faith in their education. With the University of Maine’s annual Career Fair finally upon us, now is a perfect time to examine the problematic distance between academic curricula and tangible professional development opportunities that this university, and others, offer.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average net price for full-time students’ first-year at UMaine for the 2017-18 year, including financial awards, was $16,984. Multiplied across four years of school, that price represents a remarkable investment in a future career that would hopefully justify it, especially if a student took out a significant amount in federal or private loans. Unfortunately, the 120 credits may not be enough; research from the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University suggests that “employers expect nearly a year of full-­time pre-­professional experience prior to graduation.” 

This is not to say that graduates who haven’t had as much professional experience as others are suffering as a result; NCES found in 2018 that young adults (25-34) had an 86% employment rate compared to those with high school degrees (72%) and those without a high school education (59%). With that said, college graduates don’t just want employment, but also fulfillment. The majority of the jobs that graduates are working have nothing to do with what they studied, and many have jobs that do not require degrees at all, according to the 2013 Federal Reserve research. It stands to reason that if graduates could meet employers’ expectations of pre-professional experience, then a greater percentage would be working towards fruitful careers in their desired fields. 

With that said, ensuring that graduates receive the “right” pre-professional experience and guidance is easier said than done. Career centers, like the one we have here at UMaine, face the difficult task of preparing students to hit the moving target that is the ever-evolving professional landscape. There is a constant struggle between the school of hard, technical skills which may or may not become obsolete as technology advances, and “soft skills” like communication, analysis, and creative design which are far more difficult to replicate with a machine but also less immediately tangible. Students don’t even like the word “career,” says Beth Throne, associate vice president for student and postgraduate development at Franklin & Marshall College, as it has a connotation of “lifetime commitment,” and graduates in this day and age are likely to jump between many career paths over the course of their professional lives. 

Understanding the tough job that career centers face, it must be recognized that a more holistic effort would be a far more effective way to serve the pre-professional interests of undergraduates. Attendance at career fairs and on-campus interviews may already be required for those in more technical or STEM-related areas of study, but the curricula of every major should have professional development courses and requirements. The value of internship and co-op opportunities especially cannot be overstated; Forbes contributor Brandon Busteed reported that in one 2014 poll by Gallup found “that graduates who had internships where they were able to apply what they learned in the classroom are twice as likely to be engaged in their work and thriving in their well-being later in life.”

This cannot, of course, fall entirely upon the shoulders of the academic administration of universities; students have to be responsible for their own professional growth. But at the same time, it would behoove the gatekeepers of academia to position the urgency of pre-professional development at the front and center of student life, rather than, say, sequester it on the third floor of the Union. 

Get the Maine Campus' weekly highlights right to your inbox!
Email address
First Name
Last Name
Secure and Spam free...