The battle rages on. That is, the battle of "go to college vs. do not go to college". Google it anyway you want—"Is college worth it?", "Should you go to college?", "Economics of a college degree"—and you will see on the order of 250-million references. Because of the current uncertain economic times, the argument is only louder and more protracted. In a Pew Research report from May, 2011, results showed that 57 percent of Americans say no to the question of "Is college worth it?"
In addition to the main question about go to college-don't go to college, there are sub-issues in the discussion, including whether to attend a public or a private institution. Another sub-issue concerns which degrees are best to pursue.
None of these are new concerns. The difference now is that the cost of college, the amount of debt students have when they graduate and limited employment opportunities for both internships and full time employment are at significant enough levels to make the discussion really serious. Another contributor to the discussion uncovered by the Pew report: 67 percent said that a reason for not going to college was the "need to support family."
Regardless of the arguments, the facts and the economy, the current situation has implications for all colleges and universities: "Will you have a job for my student when they graduate?" While university career centers have worked diligently not to be considered placement offices, this may indeed become the new focus, particularly for schools concerned about recruitment and retention. Career centers may try to continue the "not a placement office" position, but others within the university may side with the parents that It is a reasonable expectation of a student and his or her parents that the student have something besides the knowledge of how to get a job when they graduate.
The implications for recruitment and retention are overwhelming in three areas that will be henceforth joined at the hip. The admissions office will have to refine its message to include information on where the school's graduates are going, what kind of salaries they are making, and the hiring rates of the various degrees. It will no longer be enough to say that one of the key reasons for going to college is to make more money; it will be more "who, what when, where and why?"
Career services will have to up the ante on getting employers on campus for recruiting, or at the very least having them post career opportunities on the university's job board. This will have to occur at a time when companies are reducing their recruiting budgets and focusing on the larger state universities that have a potential of several hundred candidates for a position. On the supply side, career services will have to more effectively brand their students for employers and go beyond presenting students according to their majors. In this case, branding means reputation and developing the reputation for a university's students will have to be inclusive of all of the students in the university. All of these efforts will be included in the message that admission offices deliver.
Additionally, career services will have to focus more resources on finding and establishing internship opportunities. Internships have become an integral part of a student's college experience and an absolute necessity for employment after college. A recent NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) study found that 85 percent of students who were hired in 2010 had internships during their college time. Internships have become conduits for permanent placement after graduation for a large percentage of students as well.
The third area with a heavy stake in the success of recruiting, retention and employment will be the Alumni Affairs office. In many places, alumni are the backbone for helping current students find jobs or for hiring them in their own organizations. Alumni mentoring programs are growing in number and impact. Those schools with strong alumni organizations can point to them as solid resources for students.
Career services ends up supporting alumni by providing career support for them in much the same way it is provided to current students. When alumni see that the university is still there for them, even after graduation, it reinforces support for the university and its programs. By the same token, admissions can point out to potential students that the university has a strong alumni program that can help them in their career quest and, perhaps more importantly, is still supportive of them even after they graduate.
Recruiting and retention are in unchartered waters because of the new debate, which is not "what college do you want to go to" but "do you want to go to college?" Admissions, career services and alumni relations hold the keys.
—John M. Thompson is executive director of the Career Center at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.