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Rethinking Success

From the Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century

A New Vision for Personal and Career Development in Higher Education

This is an excerpt from “A Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience,” a crowdsourced paper edited by Andy Chan and Tommy Derry of Wake Forest University and based on the Rethinking Success conference.

Download a PDF of the complete document.

In almost every college or university’s vision statement, there are two related components that constitute its mission. One calls for providing a quality education to its students, while the other focuses on students’ preparation for life after college. The former is well executed by many higher education institutions as they truly are providing students with an education that expands their perspectives, equips them to think creatively and critically, and teaches them to communicate effectively. However, too few are adequately preparing their students for life, and especially the life of work and careers, after graduation.

The good news is that higher education institutions are beginning to realize that the second half of the equation must be addressed. More schools are incorporating experiential learning and “outside of the classroom” experiences to help students transition from an academic setting to real world application. In turn, many institutions are turning to career offices to assist students in making this transition from classroom to career. Yet, as our attention turns towards this half of the value proposition, we must be careful not to exclusively focus on the career office as the panacea, nor believe that first destination results are all that matters.

While important, first destination results cannot be the sole metric used to measure an institution’s preparation of students for the world of work. We must look beyond first destination results and strive to teach the mindset and skills required for lifetime employability in this very dynamic and ever-changing world. Based on what we have seen in our own lifetimes, we know that many of the future jobs of our college graduates do not even exist today. Coupled with the fact that generational experts expect current students to have over twenty jobs in their lifetimes, the mission of the personal and career development industry must be to educate and equip students to strategically and successfully navigate transitions. If we focus too heavily on short term placement and first destination results, we will mislead and fail ourselves, our students and other constituents.

Personal and career development must focus less on first destination results and place a greater emphasis on educating and equipping students to successfully learn this “life-giving” process and how to navigate the inevitable transitions. To succeed, everyone on campus must take part in this movement and create a new ecosystem designed for these outcomes.  We must assume a long-term perspective and strive to teach students to develop the mindset and skills for building a successful life and career – well beyond their first job. While this may be a difficult message for students to accept – as many prefer to be handed that first job – it is one that is necessary.

As the Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We must deliver on our promise and teach our students how to fish for a lifetime.  It’s now time for us to fulfill our respective missions and truly prepare our students to lead lives of meaning and purpose – and be employable for life. We cannot afford to wait any longer – and our students cannot afford for us to wait either.