It isn’t rare to hear my sorority sisters, classmates and co-workers talk about “recruiting” season — wondering aloud how they’re going to balance their Summer 2016 internship search with classes and extracurriculars. As it’s only September and most of these internships won’t start for eight or 10 more months, some of their worry might seem misguided.
But for many students — especially those taking out loans to help pay for college — stress surrounding their post-college career begins the first day of the semester. Findings from a new study released by the U.S. Department of Education show that while college graduates continue to make significantly more than non-collegians, the earnings of students 10 years after enrollment are bleak, justifying students’ job search stress.
The study, called the College Scorecard, is designed to shed light on the monetary value of a degree from any given school and the likelihood that graduates from that school will be able to pay back student loans. Using IRS data, the study measures the average income for students who received federal student aid and the percentage of students earning more than the average worker with only a college diploma.
According to the study, graduates from the University generally fared above average. Ten years after college, 78 percent of graduates earned more than those without a college education, and their average annual income was $57,900. More than 90 percent of graduates were able to pay back their student loans.
Still, studies like this one come as an unwelcome reminder of many students’ need to find a job that will maximize the return on their investment in their education — whether or not they took out loans. With that in mind, students’ willingness to spend countless hours searching for a summer internship that might lead to a job after school doesn’t seem all that irrational.
Likewise, the University’s resources for helping students find good jobs after graduation now seem much more essential to the value of a student’s education. There is certainly an intrinsic value to the time students spend at college — I think that goes without saying. But most students also expect that their hard work and time spent at college will materialize into higher lifetime wages. Many students also hope that the degree they spent so much time working on will be somehow relevant to their career.
I’m about to state the obvious here, so bear with me. The professional skills that contribute to students’ ability to find well-paying jobs in their field after graduation don’t come naturally. If students want to write great cover letters or resumes or give persuasive answers when employers ask why they should hire them, they have to learn how, just like they’d have to learn calculus if they want to take a derivative.
But even though all of what I said is so totally obvious, the University could still be doing so much more to impart those skills to its LSA students.
The Career Center — the primary place for LSA students to receive career services — has undergone improvements within the past year that will likely help students connect with resources that could help them find meaningful employment — whatever that means to them — upon graduation, or sooner. Part of this improvement involved replacing its old, clunky Career Center Connector website with a site called Handshake, which more effectively connects students with job postings, professional and career development events and resources to help them write better resumes and cover letters.
Giving students some of these tools at home through an improved website may be helpful for students who feel unprepared to meet with an adviser or are unsure of which resources are available through the Career Center.
But despite these changes, many students still don’t use Career Center services. Whether it’s because they’d rather not think about life after college or because they don’t know what resources are available, it’s clear that there’s a large segment of campus that isn’t connecting with these resources.
In part, this could be due to the way that career services are delivered. Most skills related to students’ college education are delivered directly — often through classes that motivate students to practice the skills. However, professional development is totally elective, and the Career Center resources are so under-promoted that it’s easy to forget they even exist.
Incentivizing internship experiences will help students maximize their education by confirming or rejecting a particular career interest while they’re still in school and can take classes related to that field. Some departments offer options to receive course credit for internships. Other schools encourage and require professional experience to graduate.
It goes without saying that a college education is worth much more than the jobs or salaries it helps students eventually obtain. But as the costs of college continue to rise, it’s important that the University recognizes that it will become increasingly difficult for students to recoup the value of their investment in their education. The University has a responsibility to continually develop and provide the best resources to help them do so.
Victoria Noble can be reached at email@example.com.