The economic recession is having a dramatic impact on what college or university students attend and how they pay for college. With the rising cost of college tuition, as well as concerns about pursuing careers after graduation, students and their parents are increasingly concerned about how their college degree will translate into a career once they graduate.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, schools are responding to these concerns about career opportunities and the benefits of a college education by reevaluating their course offerings, degree programs and career services opportunities. These issues, as well as financial constraints, are making many colleges think carefully about how to position themselves successfully for incoming students.
The Times cites a UCLA survey to show how students’ attitudes have changed in recent decades. In this annual survey, UCLA asks more than 400,000 incoming freshman about their life goals. In 1971, only 37% indicated that they found it very important to be financially well off, and 73% stated that they found importance in “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” The 2009 results of this survey were essentially reversed, with 78% concerned about being well off and only 48% stating that developing a meaningful philosophy was a core goal.
How are students’ shifting goals impacting college major options and course offerings? Some schools, including the University of Louisiana- Lafayette, are eliminating philosophy as a major. Others, like Michigan State University, are eliminating majors like classics and American studies, due to declining enrollment.
In addition to getting rid of majors that no longer reflect student goals, many schools are adding courses and majors that do. The Times article notes that schools are adding courses in Other Public Health and Environmental Science, as well as languages including Arabic Language and Literature and Chinese Language and Literature. College courses at many schools may include information about networking, interviewing, entrepreneurship and other skills that are important both in and out of the classroom.
Complicating matters for many colleges and universities, particularly liberal arts colleges, is the long-held philosophy that college is a time to learn a breadth of knowledge and develop as a person, not just as an employee. The more students tailor their college experience to their post-college career, the less time they are able to devote to exploring a variety of fields and experiences.
Fortunately for these schools, studies show that employers also prefer that students possess a broad range of skills as well as the specific traits needed for their position. The Times article notes that one such study, conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, asked employers what they wanted 2-year colleges and 4-year colleges to teach students. Topping the list were requests for good writing and speaking skills, the ability to think critically and analytically, and to be creative and innovative.
As colleges strive to help students get the most out of their college education, some educators say that the key to helping students bridge the gap between an education and a career lies in understanding the worth of that education and how to position yourself in the workplace. In many cases, they say, the actual courses and major you choose are less important than the skills you get from them and your ability to understand and articulate the value of what you have learned.
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