Colleges cannot leave career preparation of students to chance

June 24, 2011

The article in The Sun "For-profit colleges under fire" (June 22 ) poses a critical question to all of higher education, for-profit and not-for-profit alike: What are we doing to prepare and enable our students to secure jobs and succeed in an increasingly competitive and dynamic workforce?

The Department of Education's regulations for the for-profit education sector might help the taxpayer avoid making bad student loans, but its punitive measures do not directly address the heart of the issue. Of course, the nation needs to step up to tackle the challenge of unemployment overall and youth unemployment in particular — the rate has approached 20 percent during the current recession — but higher education needs a proactive approach to career preparation in order to help students successfully transition to the workforce after college.

Eleven years ago, when I became president of Stevenson University (then Villa Julie College), an institution known for its "practical" degrees, we foresaw the need to develop a structured career preparation experience for our students. The pressure was already on us: We actively recruited students — many first-in-family to attend college — who expected their college degrees to lead to gainful employment. For them, attending college — and the financial sacrifices that went along with it — meant defining and acquiring a strong career path for life. We simply could not leave career preparation to chance. Today, we are in the process of revising our career preparation experience once again.

Academia is often slow to change its methods, but we learned long ago that you must make career preparation an integral part of a student's college years. Just as the Internet pushed higher education into the realm of online learning — sometimes kicking and screaming — the modern employment experience should push us to consider new ways of preparing and empowering students for careers. Otherwise, we will leave a new generation, already carrying loads of debt, adrift in an employment marketplace that is hypercompetitive and constantly changing.

Kevin J. Manning, Stevenson

The writer is President of Stevenson University.

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