Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hierarchy of Student Decision-Makine Step 4 Can I Get a Job?

This is the fifth installment on the Hierarchy of Student Decision Making. Introduction to the Hierarchy How they Choose click here
The First Step in the Hierarchy- Can I Get In?
click here. Installment 3 - Can I Afford it? click here
Installment 4 - Can I Graduate? click here

The Hierarchy of Student Decision-Making Step 4

Can I Get a Job?
Now we come to one of the more divisive and hypocritical issues on a campus. It goes to the heart of the mission of an institution and why society supports higher education. It is an issue that many in higher education fault our students for holding. This is also one of the highest order concerns of all students and is a major deciding factor to attend or stay at a college or university. If students can answer it positively, they will attend and stay. If not, they will go elsewhere. Simply put “Can I Get Job”.

Or to rephrase it as I have heard it from students “If I pay the money to go to this place, do the work, jump through the hoops it requires for me to graduate, will I get a job. A good job?”

The Job-Orientation of Students

The figures show that what motivated us to attend a college is still what motivates today’s students to choose a school. And even more so. The annual study called The American Freshman National Norms by the Staff of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA has been following the attitudes, motivators and beliefs of incoming freshmen for over 40 years. In the latest available report, 2006 freshmen indicated the

Top reasons noted as very important in deciding to go to college

All Men Women

To learn more about things that interest me 76.8% 72.1% 80.6%
To be able to get a better job 70.4% 70.4% 70.4%
To get training for a specific career 69.2% 64.8% 72.7%
To be able to make more money 69.0% 71.9% 66.6%
To gain a general education and appreciation of ideas 64.3% 57.5% 69.9%
To prepare myself for graduate or professional school 57.7% 51.0% 63.1%.

Three out of the top five motivators to go to college focus specifically on a job resulting from going to college. The first motivator is also focused on jobs for students since they will major in areas of “things that interest me” and that major is most often the area in which they wish to work after college.

Again the 2006 CIRP shows the importance of a job from attending a school.

Table 2. Reasons for Attending this College by College Choice (percentages)

“Very Important” Reason for Attending this College

1st 2nd 3rd 4th Choice Choice Choice and lower

This college has a very good academic reputation 63.0* 49.9* 41.1* 30.5*
This college’s graduates get good job
52.7* 44.9* 3 39.2* 31.3*.

Source (

Reputation is an extremely important aspect that leads to the initial choices and getting a job is a close second most important reason. In fact, the second most important stated reason for choosing a school is that graduates get good jobs. There is indeed a relationship that students believe between getting into a name rand school (reputation) and getting a good job because one graduates from the name brand institution. It is thus hard to separate out the first and second primary motivators since in the students’ eyes, there are two parts of the same motivator – getting a good job.

Once the student is in a college, when deciding to stay or leave “this college’s graduates get good jobs” rises right to the top after preceding concerns – affording, graduating – are answered. If a student is attending a school with a reputation for getting graduates good jobs, the student will do all he or she can to stay there. Even if they are not able to respond to the final step in the hierarchy of decision-making “Will I enjoy it?” with a positive answer. If the student is even hating the school but believes graduating from it will lead to the good job or grad school, he or she will most normally tough it out. As a student I interviewed at a name brand school told me “I hate this place. I wish I had gone somewhere else but if I can just make it through another f---ing year, the name on the diploma will open doors. I can handle another year to get the job and money I want.”

I got in. I can pay for it. I can see my way to graduation. Now, will it get me to where I want to go? Will I get a job, a good job after I graduate. If the answer is yes, students will be strongly motivated to stay as long as their corresponding motivation to get that job remains strong. We in higher education need to realize that. Students attend our colleges, our universities and our classes to do what they must to get a job. We need to accept that reality at some level at least so we do not discourage students from staying at the institution or rejecting what we do. We should not denigrate students for doing what we did so we could get the position we sought in higher education. This was out professional goal. As it is theirs but maybe not to go into education.

So it is important that colleges help keep students focused on college as a pathway to the job they want. More on the how to later.

Is College the AAA League Preparing Students for Jobs?

We in academia know that attending college is a crass, unintelligent motive for going to school. To get a job! That’s not what we are here for! Not why I went to school. The corporatization of colleges and universities is demeaning the role and value of education. If we were to agree to that as acceptable we would be lowering the value of higher education to become just a minor league for business, corporations and the economy.

Higher education has been corrupted enough by the business-like attitudes of administrators and trustees. Trustees we can understand somewhat. They are form outside. Business people and corporate big shots who buy their way onto the boards. And the presidents just suck up to them and what they want done. The models presidents and chancellors use and the way they make decisions are straight from the latest business best seller. The fad of the day. We’ve had them all. Trying to run the institution like it is a business and money and budgets are the most important thing around here. The salaries senior administrators pull down. No wonder they think of themselves as CEO’s and not college presidents. They are the ones who make this place feel so corporate as they suck up to corporations and business for donations. Administrators care more about bringing in money than the faculty or students. They seem to put their own interests before students and teaching.

And maybe a few science professors who spend their time looking for breakthroughs they can patent and make a fortune on. But…Oh yes, and athletics. Nothing but a big business with coaches making huge salaries and sponsorship deals. Maybe some TV and radio too. And well, the athletes are just interested in getting into the pros and making fortunes. But they do bring us school pride when they win. But the rest of us, NO! Well okay, maybe some chem and bio folks who do research paid for by big pharmaceuticals to find what they need to sell some pills and stuff. And yes, I guess some tech folks who write programs, widgets, invent stuff and processes and run their own companies when not in the classroom. The law and med profs need to stay abreast of the real field so I suppose when they have their own practices and work as expert consultants, they are expanding their expertise and should be paid for it. The psychology, sociology and anthro people who do that too. Not for the money or reputation of course. The business folks too. They use their real world consulting and businesses to strengthen their students’ understanding of the real world of business.

But let’s realize they do not take time away from students either since their classes are covered by T.A’s of adjuncts. Granted the T.A’s and adjuncts may not be as good as the experts but at least we are able to get them some work teaching courses for the name and faculty whose names and pictures in the brochures attracted students to the school. So they play an important role that way too. By bringing students to the school where they will be taught by others…. They are sort of the marketing bait to hook the students. They still get good education from the T.A’s and adjuncts that are switched in there. Granted, if the administration would just spend more money on more full-time faculty and salaries, this would not happen. But they have this business model that just hurts the institution.

Those who teach in other areas like engineering, business, criminal justice, technology and what we call the applied studies, do have another point of view. Here is where some of the CS Lewis divide comes in higher education. Sure they teach theories and ideas but they believe the students should be able to do something with the learning. That should not be what college is for. To focus on preparing students for careers and jobs is anti-intellectual. Simply because students are in college to get jobs and because society has supported education since it helps the economy, society and culture demeans the role of higher education to open students to new ideas and improve their ability to think, to reflect, enrich the culture and humankind. That’s why students should come to college. Not for a job.

As an ex-English teacher I know that I was not teaching people so they could get jobs when I assigned works such as Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dickinson, Plato. My colleagues in many humanities areas such as philosophy, art, creative writing, theology and so on never taught to get students ready to get jobs after graduation. We were not concerned with business want ads such as philosopher wanted – entry level position in growing firm needs philosopher; metaphysical background preferred. That was not our job. Our job was to teach students all branches of philosophical endeavor and help them to get ready for graduate school. Maybe one of them would make it to the PhD and become a philosophy teacher. Which is..I guess..a job.

So if they did become a university professor, I guess reading Plato was preparation for a job. But that would never be why I or my colleagues would have taught it. Not as job prep but as part of our own jobs…To work against job-oriented learning. That’s a reason I went on to get a PhD after all. So I could work against the idea of college as career-prep. Except when I taught Technical Writing I guess.

But to do what the technologists suggest is more training than learning. And training as we know is much more limited. This is stimulus A. When you see it, you are to do B. A yields B. Training. But is training the realm of higher education. Oh sure, maybe in community colleges and career schools but not universities. Community colleges and career colleges are there to train people to get a job. But in universities, there is a higher, non-career related mission. Training is for lower-level functions. For those who just want to get a job from their degrees. People like… well, doctors. Yes, they should be trained. That’s good training. Stimulus A blood flowing from a wound should lead immediately to B to stop bleeding out. But then, people go to med school to become…..Well, to become a doctor which is a career, not a job. Like I went to grad school and studied English to become a composition teacher in which I trained students to write which they did not want to do until they realized it applied directly to their future jobs. Once I could link it to their future work they had an interest. They finally became involve because writing could have an effect on their obtaining a good job.

We Were Our Students

Whether we want to admit it or not, accept it or not, we too went to college and university to get a job. Teaching is a job. We all went to college to become something. From early on in life we have been responding to the question of “what will you be when you grow up?” College is part of the answer. It helps us grow up as we go there to major in an area. That area is most always the one that we wish to work in as well even if it is to work in a university as a professor. Even art majors go to college to become better artists and maybe even sell their work. To make money and live. Just like our students. It never hurts to do something one enjoys for a job since we spend more time on the job that out of it quite often. That is why the CIRP found students saying they also came to school to study something that interests them as well as to get a good job. They want to do something they will enjoy while they study it so they can graduate and make money. Actually isn’t that what we do everyday we teach? Do something we enjoy and try to pass that pleasure on to our students? Isn’t what we do? Trying to combine love of our subject and our work? And even if we teach or administer something that does not thrill us at this moment, don’t we do that job so we can do other things we enjoy more? Just like many of our students know they may have to do to get started in a career?

Of course there are some of us who will say that we only teach so we can have the time and money to do what we really want to do. And there are some teachers who try to become administrators to get out of teaching because they have a rather insane notion that administration is easier than teaching. And others will work very hard to get grants or release time to get out of teaching some sections. But that is work too that depended initially on getting a degree to be able to get a job in a college or university. But even if one teaches just to be able to study and read about what interests, teaching is still a job; a way to make an income and live, eat, and study or do something more pleasurable. By the way, students will say that they unfortunately know that some professors do not like teaching from the way such people teach.

They do not like teachers who are not engaged in their learning because they know that what they skills and knowledge they acquire are for their goals of graduating and getting a job.

So it is important that colleges help keep students focused on college as a pathway to the job they want. More on the how to later.

No comments: