From the President: Career ready in an ever-changing global landscape

Posted by Centre News in News 24 Sep 2015

roushThomas L. Friedman, one of our nation’s most astute journalists, claimed a decade ago that we live in a “flat world,” one that requires a different set of skills and talents. His view is now the accepted reality, and we take it as a given that college graduates must be all the more prepared to succeed in an extremely competitive and global job market.

With the playing field leveled, parents and families are right to wonder, what is it that will set my son or daughter apart when seeking employment or advanced study in a prestigious graduate or professional school?

Add to this flattened world anxiety is the fact that “disruption,” another new and accepted theme about one’s working life, complicates the situation even further. Upstarts are toppling well-established brands and whole industries are losing relevance, in part because technology’s role in our lives continues to increase exponentially.

How do we equip young men and women to meet these challenges? Even more, how does an undergraduate education itself remain relevant in this brave new world?

As a college president, the easy (albeit challenging) answer I would offer is this.

Those best equipped for what tomorrow may bring will be people who can think critically and evaluate carefully, men and women who seek creative solutions, who can communicate effectively, have been challenged in adventurous settings across the globe, and are leaders who are talented in building teams with an array of soft skills that were developed during their undergraduate career.

In short, now more than ever, the most relevant undergraduate experience is an education in the liberal arts and sciences.

I am a true believer in this kind of experience, one that is broad and varied and rigorous and focused, because it provides students with a collection of talents and skills that will serve him or her for five to six decades of work in a half dozen or more different jobs and several careers.

Today’s colleges and universities have an obligation to avoid becoming degree mills. Not only must they assist their students in discovering how they turn their history or sociology or art major into a life of work and service but also in understanding how this kind of preparation puts them in position to secure gainful employment and build a life for themselves and their loved ones.

In addition, I would contend that the best colleges and universities must also be intentional about putting in place a first-rate career services effort. At Centre, our office is called the Center for Career & Professional Development, since this team focuses on complementing the learning that occurs inside the classroom with relevant, real-world learning outside the classroom.

The student, of course, needs to accept some responsibility for seeking out this opportunity, but the best places have adopted a clear strategy of helping their students experience a variety of work-related activity during their undergraduate years.

This strategy is not new at Centre College.

Some 15 years ago, we instituted a policy that guarantees our students will graduate in four years, study abroad, and have an internship or undergraduate research experience.

What we call the “Centre Commitment” has proven one of the wisest initiatives we have pursued over the last several decades, and it demonstrates the kind of intentional approach colleges must take to make their graduates career ready in an ever-changing landscape. The student, of course, does have some practical responsibilities in meeting these three goals, but the College has yet to have a student lay claim to a free fifth year if these objectives are not met.

While this is all well and good, the real pay back is that Centre College graduates are enjoying extraordinary success in being prepared for life after college. Over the last three years alone, an average 95 percent of our graduates are employed or pursuing advanced study within a year of completing their degree.

This is the data point that matters to me as a college president. I know it is one that resonates with parents and families, too, and it is altogether reasonable for them to expect their college-educated daughter or son is prepared for work or advanced study after having earned an undergraduate degree.

In reality, it is not asking too much for colleges and universities to be intentional about these obligations.

Our students deserve such an effort. So does our nation.

by President John A. Roush
September 24, 2015

This story originally appeared in the The Advocate-Messenger and is featured on Huffington Post.