How colleges are failing their students

Some colleges and universities haven't caught on to the fact that if students don’t have the skills they need to land a job a degree isn't worth much.

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Most traditional four-year colleges are great at teaching students theoretical knowledge, critical thinking, history, literature and even computer science, but where these institutions fall short in a key area: teaching graduates the skills they need to land jobs after school and manage their careers.

"There's a major disconnect between what colleges believe their students need to get a job and what those students actually need. The job market and the economy have changed so drastically in the last 20 or 30 years, but at many traditional colleges, it may as well be 1985 - or 1955," says career management coach, consultant, resume expert, author and speaker Rick Gillis.

A Degree Is No Longer Enough

Based on his experience coaching and assisting clients in their job searches, Gillis finds major disconnect between what many career services departments promise and what they can actually deliver.

"The myth that simply having a degree is enough to land a job hasn't been true for decades; it's an oversell that is really harmful to graduates. What college career services should be are liaisons between the student body and the job market, helping students learn the practical skills and processes of going through a job hunt, networking, interviewing," Gillis says.

There's certainly a need for teaching those basics, but in today's economy graduates need job search tactics, tricks, hacks and strategies to help them succeed in landing a role, Gillis says. "What happens all too often is that these departments fall short; they'll show you how to make a cookie-cutter resume, shake hands properly and tell you to dress appropriately before patting you on the back and ushering you out the door," says Gillis.

"My younger clients tell me that what they really could have used were courses on networking; on how to write a strategic resume that can beat applicant tracking systems; how to use keywords; social media do's and don'ts; strategic internships," Gillis says.

"Instead, they've paid their tuition -- a cut of which went to the career services department -- got their degree, and they still had to hire me after graduation because they didn't have the skills they need," says Gillis.

A Winning Partnership

To bring those practical job search and career management strategies to students, Missouri's Webster University is forging a partnership with Right Management, the workforce consulting arm of ManpowerGroup, to offer career management and coaching services to students and alumni of the university's Walker School of Business & Technology, says Mary Haskins, regional vice president and practice leader at Right Management.

"With the rising cost of degrees, parents and students should have the expectation that graduates will land a job after graduation. Schools are starting to understand that they have to shift their paradigms, and better prepare their students for these opportunities," says Haskins.

The new Career Management and Coaching Program at Webster University, launching in July 2015, will offer a for-credit course on career management, one-on-one career coaching and lifetime access to Right Management's career resources, alumni network and job bank.

The approach turns the traditional career services model on its head by tapping the expertise of career management professionals from Right Management and integrating their knowledge and experience into the curriculum, helping students perform an effective job search that will land them a role.

"So many career services departments are not equipped to support students the way they need to in today's job market. They need to know how to create an effective resume, how to develop a 'personal brand,' how to prepare for an interview, how to negotiate salary if a job offer is made - these aren't topics traditionally taught in college, but they are certainly necessary. As experts on career management, we're uniquely equipped to do that for students," says Haskins.

Colleges Should Give Graduate an Edge

Programs like the Webster University and Right Management partnership are a great example of how innovative institutions can help better prepare students for life after graduation. By acknowledging the need for these practical skills and leveraging outside experts to bring that information on campus, institutions can give their graduates a significant edge in a tight market.

"There are so many talented career management, coaching and job search resources out there that colleges and universities should be taking advantage of. They can focus on education and we can focus on our area of expertise -- it's a winning situation for everyone," says Gillis.

This story, "How colleges are failing their students" was originally published by CIO.

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