Liberal arts and jobs: It is not an either/or situation

I’d like to put my position up front: there is NO schism between liberal arts education and jobs. None. So, when you hear the President of the United States, many governors, policy wonks, talking heads and Peter Thiel say that Liberal Arts are not a good career investment (although to be fair, Thiel argues against college entirely, not just Liberal Arts), they are misguided.

There is an irony in most of these statements, because many of those making them actually *have* Liberal Arts degrees. But, I’d like to argue that there’s more to it than irony and short-sightedness. It may not be explicit, but it is present.

I think there’s classism involved.

Remember our context — we live in a time where college degrees are still quite rare (the Census Bureau says we crossed over the 30% mark only in the past few years). But, even that low-ish number is still greatly expanded over even 20 years ago. And if you’ve studied your Pierre Bourdieu, you know the theory of education being a place that passes on social capital.

While I agree that college tuition costs are increasing rapidly and current costs for some institutions are too high, it seems to me that at least some of the argument we are hearing for “practical majors” is rooted in the idea that perhaps only the wealthy should be able to study humanities, arts and culture. Are these not things for the well-to-do? Shouldn’t the working class be studying something that just simply puts them to work?

No, of course not. And that’s why the irony of so many of these folks arguing for more “jobs ROI” from our colleges and universities, while simultaneously wielding power AND holding a Liberal Arts education, seems so thick.

To my opening point, there is no schism between Liberal Arts education and obtaining a first job or a successful professional life. I’m paraphrasing John Dewey (perhaps poorly) when I say it, but I do believe that an occupation is not the purpose of higher education, but it is a logical outcome. As a career center director, I know first hand that those with Liberal Arts degrees can have both short-term and long-term career success, while also studying arts, culture and humanities. I see it all the time (and the AAUC noted in a recent study that Liberal Arts majors actually make more than those from professional programs during their peak earning years).

We do not need to spend more time steering students into so-called “practical majors.” Students need to pursue academic areas that intrigue them and in which they can do good, hard academic work. We do need to spend more time helping students find contexts to which they can apply their Liberal Arts skills.

Yes, we know that the philosophy major is not going to find an organization to pay him or her to sit around and just think deeply. But, that’s a straw man argument. There are plenty of organizations who would like a student who can critically analyze situations; who can see varying perspectives; and who can write competently. Problem solved, philosophy student. Let’s take those highly desired skills and find a good fit for you!

Our challenge is to have our students tackle these post-college questions earlier. We need to make this a core expectation of the college experience from semester one. Students should not skip over the very important steps of academic exploration. However, they need to undertake this exploration in parallel with examination of potential industries and functional areas of interest. When done together, students have the agency to set a positive academic AND career trajectory for themselves.

Revisit: 1999 article on “imperatives for career services”

I was looking up some mid-year reading in our library here at UNC and came across a piece from 1999 by Jack Rayman titled “Career Services Imperatives for the Next Millennium.”  This article was a follow up on a 1993 entry in the Jossey-Bass New Directions for Student Services Series titled “The Changing Role of Career Services.”  I thought it would be interesting to post his 10 imperatives and see if anyone has thoughts to share via comments.  I’ll add a few of my thoughts after each imperative.

Imperative 1:  We must acknowledge the lifelong nature of career development and initiate programs and services that enable and encourage students to take responsibility for their own career destiny.

This stands true for me now as it did in 1993 and 1999.

Imperative 2:  We must accept and embrace technology as our ally and shape its use to free staff time for those tasks that require human sensitivity.

Certainly embracing technology continues to be important, but I sense less of a desire to do so to offload certain tasks.  It seems more “with” and “and” these days than “either/or.”

Imperative 3:  We must continue to refine and strengthen our professional identity and that of career services within the academy.

I think we’re feeling this strongly right now with the conversations taking place about the value of education, but I don’t know that our voices were strong in shaping the discussion in the years leading up to now.

Imperative 4:  We must acknowledge and accept that individual career counseling is at the core of our profession and endeavor to maintain and enhance the centrality of individual career counseling in the career development process.

My personal opinion is that while this is still true, it feels a little too narrow for where I think we need to be headed as a field.

Imperative 5:  We must forge cooperative relationships with faculty, advising professionals, other student affairs professionals, administrators, parents, and student groups to take advantage of the “multiplier effect” that such collaborative relationships can have in furthering our goal of enhanced student career development.

Absolutely.  The only shame here is that perhaps we’ve not done enough between 1993, 1999 and now!

Imperative 6:  We must redouble our efforts to meet the changing career development needs of an increasingly diverse student body.

Maybe it’s now time to triple our efforts. :)

Imperative 7:  We must accept our position as the most obvious and continuing link between corporate America and the academy, but we must also maintain our focus on career development and not allow ourselves to be seduced into institutional fundraising at the expense of quality career services.

I’m not so sure here.Most universities have well-trained fundraising facilitators in their advancement/development offices.  We have a role to play, but I certainly haven’t seen us sliding toward doing too much of this.

Imperative 8:  We must acknowledge and accept that on-campus recruiting as we have known it is a thing of the past and develop alternative means of facilitating the transition from college to work.

Not so fast!  20 years after the 1993 piece, we’re still doing OCR and career fairs.  We certainly can’t *only* rely on these efforts, and that’s truer now than ever.  So, the core of the argument in Imperative 8 is a good one.  But, they’ve not yet disappeared either.

Imperative 9:  We must resolve the ambiguities that exist about our role in delivering alumni career services and solicit from our alumni associations the resource support necessary to provide these services.

This seems a bit more campus-to-campus than field-wide, as far as problems go.

Imperative 10:  We must advocate more effectively for resources to maintain and increase our role in facilitating student career development within the academy, and we must become more efficient and innovative in our use of existing resources.

Some things never change, right?

What are your reactions to these imperatives?  I’d love to hear from you.

Professional development needs of those new to career services

I’m in the midst of a study on the professional development needs to those new to career services.  I’ll be posting data here as I find interesting things to report.  Here are some details on who took the survey:

I had a total of 121 responses, of whom:

  • 31% have been in the field for 1 year
  • 32% have been in the field for 2 years
  • 20% have been in the field for 3 years
  • 17% have been in the field for 4 years
  • 35% entered career services directly from a degree program
  • 31% entered career services after FEWER than 5 years in another field or industry
  • 35% entered career services after MORE than 5 years in another field or industry

In response to the question “based on what you know today, how prepared were you for your first position in career services?”:

  • 4% responded “not very prepared”
  • 46% responded “somewhat prepared”
  • 40% responded “sufficiently prepared”
  • 9% responded “extremely prepared”

In response to the question “do you have someone you consider a mentor in the field of career services (even if that person is not in your office)?”:

  • 69% responded “yes”
  • 31% responded “no”

The remainder of the survey was qualitative rather than quantitative.  But, I’ll be exploring the qualitative responses through the lenses presented through the delineations above.  I asked them questions about ways career center leaders can better support or improve professional development; about what ways having a mentor has impacted them; about what advice they would give leaders for helping other new professionals coming into the field; and examples of the most meaningful professional development experiences they have had.  I’ll also be doing some follow-up interviews with participants who volunteered to speak in more detail.

So, look for more posts coming soon!

5 more things university career services should be doing

Following up on my previous post, here are a few other thoughts of things university career services center should be considering to maintain relevance and useful services.

- Increase distance services. Chat services; appointments via skype and using screen sharing tools; virtual events (not just fairs); video resume reviews; webinars; “bite sized” instructional videos; blackboard/sakai sites; google hangouts and so forth.

- Expand self assessment options. Strong Interest Inventory (which I don’t particularly care for) and MBTI are prevalent. Let’s expand to include communication styles, team work styles, leadership styles, innovation styles, etc.

- Increase mobility. Be less dependent on a specific office and provide services with more mobility, in more locations, with more flexibility.

- Make websites mobile friendly. You can ignore the rest of my thoughts, if needed. But, if you don’t heed this call, you’ll be behind soon – mobile traffic on the web is already more prevalent than from desktop computers.

- Audience segmentation. When you talk to everyone, you’re talking to no one. Invest in your marketing by segmenting your audience and speaking to their individual needs, rather than using blasts.

5 things university career services needs to do now

Here is a quickly brainstormed list of what career services pros should be considering doing to maintain relevance into the future. I’ll add more posts like this soon. But, I’d love your thoughts on these and what *else* we need to be doing.

- Skill/capacity building sessions. We know what employers need, and we know that students don’t always get them in their studies, and they may or may not be able to get them in internships and other places. We can supplement.

- Merging with leadership development and service learning offices. If you’re not *at least* partnering with them now, and possibly considering merging, you should be.

- Taking a more active role in any experiential education requirements your campus may have (on the academic side).

- Coordinating a campus-wide experience-building or job shadowing program. Your institution has many, many functions – marketing, HR, finance, fundraising, event planning, governance/legal, program management, research, teaching, and the list goes on. Get students connected to them.

- Entrepreneurship support. programming, connecting, training, providing work space. It can come in lots of forms.

Curating on Flipboard

I’ve found that I haven’t had much time to create content lately. But, because I *consume* content at such a fast pace and large volume, I remembered that curation can be just as valuable as creation. So, I’ve started a Flipboard magazine companion to this blog. I have a paper.li account that does this, robot-style. But, the Flipboard magazine is hand-selected content.

If you are a Flipboard user, simply search “Service Design, Marketing and Innovation for Higher Education” and you’ll find the magazine that I’ve begun curating there. And if you’re not a Flipboard user, I encourage you to check it out. It’s a very useful and visually-appealing way to consume content from a variety of sources (ever wonder what your twitter or facebook feeds would look like as a magazine?).

I’ll still be creating content here on occasion. But, the Flipboard magazine is more of an ongoing place to read things that line up with this blog philosophically.

See you there!

The IF

I am super excited to announce The Innovation Forum For Career Services, an event I’m co-coordinating with my friend and colleague Ray Angle.  The event takes place on August 1 and 2, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  It features keynotes, plenary sessions, a panel, plenty of discussion time and the Career Services Innovation Idea Challenge.   You can read more at our site:  the-if.net

If you’re a career services pro interested in innovation, this is the event for you!

Do we lack the skills of the innovator?

In a recent Fortune article titled Why is Innovation So Hard, there is a quote that is very important for those of us in higher education to consider.

“The primary function an organization’s rhythm is to maintain equilibrium.”

Why this quote has special meaning for higher ed pros is that part of the foundation of our organizations, part of why they are so long-lasting and why they outlive Fortune 500 companies and other types of organizations, is that they have a rhythm and they have traditions.  The semester (or quarter) system cycle.  It lulls us.  Our institutions thrive for the service they provide to our society.   But, we survive by repetition and ritual.   Many (if not most) leaders become leaders because they are able to replicate and deliver effectively. In the so-far-excellent book (I’m only a few chapters in), The Innovator’s DNA, the authors state,

In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products or processes, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model.

So, where does that leave the would-be innovator who is working within the system?   This isn’t another blog post about MOOCs or the latest EdTech start up.  This is about the higher ed pro who is pushing boundaries, iterating, pivoting and innovating inside their institution.

I don’t compose this with a lot of sage advice or solid answers in mind.   But, I am increasingly intrigued by those who choose to be in our field, but focus on the skills of an innovator — discovery, idea generation, questioning, experimenting, risk-taking, comfort with discomfort.  We don’t tend to hire for those skills.  We tend to hire for content/discipline knowledge and experience, along with personality factors and more standard workplace skills such as communication and teamwork.

Perhaps one key for the leaders of our various higher ed sub-fields is to begin thinking more broadly about what skills we need in our staffers.  Are we looking solely for the ability to replicate and duplicate.  Or should we more purposefully look beyond “best practices” for those “next practices.”

Has your office expanded the desirable skill set for your staffers?  Have you re-written job descriptions to include anything forward-facing?  Are you otherwise organizationally preparing yourselves to be more innovative?  I’d love to hear from you, if so.

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