Lets’ be honest – Arts & Sciences has never been the leading field when it comes to high-level job placement in career education. The truth, which so many of us have heard since the very beginning, is that arts and sciences majors are harder to place in comparison to some other fields. It doesn’t help when our students are being sent the same message. So, knowing that, why do we continue to perpetuate the issue?
The answer is that it is easier to attach ourselves to the success of a problem we have already solved instead of showcasing the pitfalls that we still have. If we look at this from a historical perspective, at least at the University of Cincinnati, we see the following:
- Cooperative Education (co-op) was founded in 1906 in our, now, College of Engineering and Applied Science
- In 1919 the first cooperative education program in business was started
- In 1920 the cooperative education program became mandatory in our College of Engineering
- In 1946 cooperative education was split into three colleges
- In 2003 UC founded the first formal cooperative education program in Ohio at the College of Nursing
Currently, the University of Cincinnati has a mandatory cooperative education program for the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning while The Carl H. Lindner College of Business and the Department of Communication offers an optional program. The rest of the colleges and majors are offered internships and experiential learning opportunities. Which, please don’t get me wrong, is absolutely phenomenal that students have these opportunities and is in no way less important than cooperative education. To say the least, students in cooperative education should also take advantage of these opportunities as well. They are great, they showcase wonderful avenues of education and experience, and give students a chance to be hands-on in a field that they love. However, we have to make sure that these opportunities give our non-cooperative education students the same chances of finding a job after they graduate as the students that go through co-op. Realistically, 95% of employers said candidate experience is a strong factor and that they “increasingly see their internship programs as the best path for hiring entry-level candidates”1. We all know the benefits of having a professional experience in college – networking, confidence, an understanding of your field, potential income, resume building, etc. – so why not give every student an opportunity to have it?
The real challenge comes from the fact that arts and sciences majors don’t have the traditional career path or trajectory that certain other programs are set up with. If you’re an engineering student you pretty much understand you will be landing in the engineering field. The same is true of an architecture student, a nursing student, a pre-med student, etc. Even though their paths can change if they chose for them to, they understand that they have a set career path or niche that their degree will lead them into. Even business students understand that they are generally going into some business field and companies are ready to receive them after they graduate. They believe that a marketing student is going to be savvy in their professional vocabulary and have an understanding for their world. Thus, not only does the co-op program easily integrate into the business field, it is ready to be received by companies.
Thus, our challenge, is making sure that our arts and sciences students are received in the same way by their intended fields of study. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t start a cooperative education program for every arts and sciences major over-night, but why can’t it be something that we are striving for? That is one of the challenges that the University of Cincinnati’s Division of Experience-Based Learning and Career Education is trying to address. How can we get these students the all-around experience they need so they can have the most successful career trajectory possible. Even further, how can we decipher what exactly it is that this population of students wants and needs.
The answer, as simplistic as it sounds, is to start early. Too many times we start career education too late in our collegiate career and end up missing all the steps we should have hit already. Students can’t know they want something if they don’t know it exists. Thus, we need to start with orientation. We need to let them understand that opportunities exist and get them integrated into the mindset of “building a resume” during college – whatever that looks like for their field. As higher education professionals we need to understand that this experience doesn’t look the same for every field, let alone every student. We can sit here and pride ourselves on the phenomenal placement rates of our cooperative education students, but what we need to address the students outside of these programs if we want to truly help our entire population of students. Obviously, we should be proud of our accomplishments, but since we have already accomplished it, why not branch out?
While speaking with a couple of colleagues in my division we bounced around some ideas to help engage this population of students:
- Introduction video to be a requirement before orientation
- Presentations during orientation – student focused
- Reaching out to Learning Communities/First Year Experience – get them signed up for resume critiques, workshops on understanding yourself, MBTI and other personality assessments, etc.
- The Backpack to Briefcase Program (already exists at UC) – connecting arts and sciences students that have an interest in business to local companies
It’s a simple notion to accept that we need to get to students earlier in their collegiate career – the difficult part is creating a full-force step-by-step process on how to successfully engage them. As Hellen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure of nothing”, so I say we take on the daring adventure of full-heartedly pulling arts and sciences into the career education and experiential learning overall experience. No student should be left out simply because their major doesn’t fit into a traditional mold or specific field.
Thus, while there is no easy answer, the question is how we overcome and persevere over this challenge while not losing the voice of our students. So, my question for everyone, is how do you think we should accept this feat?
Hansen, Katharine. “College Students: You Simply Must Do an Internship | Quintessential LiveCareer.” Quintessential LiveCareer. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
“History.” University of Cincinnati. Professional Practice and Experiential Learning, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Luisa. “Getting Experience to Get Experience?” Explore Learning through Travel and Experience. Career and Work, 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.