(Guest blogger Jeffrey J. Selingo is author of the New York Times bestseller, “There Is Life After College.”)
In June, I hosted a conversation with Andy Chan, vice president for innovation and career development at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Chan is a rock star in the field. He has raised millions of dollars to expand Wake Forest’s career services and has been featured in The New York Times Magazine for setting an example of what a career center needs to offer in the 21st century job market. Many other institutions are now following his lead and remaking their career centers into resources that students use from the first day of their freshman years.
As we discussed, it’s increasingly clear that beyond just earning a degree, the decisions students make in college, from choosing a major and course to finding internships, are playing a larger role in their post-graduation lives.
Employers don’t trust that the degree comes embedded with the “soft skills” they are looking for in today’s college graduates, such as problem solving, critical thinking, communications, and working in teams. An analysis of millions of job ads by the workforce analytics firm Burning Glass found that employers requiring a bachelor’s degree list more soft skills than technical skills among the set of requirements.
Andy and I also discussed how as educators and employers, we can better help young adults transition into their lives after graduation. We agreed that we need better ways to measure and demonstrate learning in college so that employers can be assured graduates are equipped to perform in a job. We agreed the quality of the technology educators use plays a big role. A modern system, such as Workday Student, allows institutions to better track student engagement and success, both inside and outside the classroom.
For a new book I wrote on this subject, “There Is Life After College,” I surveyed 752 young adults aged 24-27 across the U.S. to find out how the experiences they had in school led them to where they are today. According to the survey, twenty-somethings transition into adulthood in one of three ways: they can be Sprinters, Wanderers, or Stragglers.
Sprinters (35% of the young adults surveyed) jump right into their careers after college or are on a path to a successful launch after completing additional education. Wanderers (32%) take their time—about half of their 20s—to get their start in a career. Stragglers (33%) spend most of their 20s trying to get their start.
Whether someone becomes a Sprinter, Wanderer, or Straggler, the journey through their 20s depends largely on three factors that colleges and universities can track and greatly influence:
Minimizing student loan debt. The more loan debt students amass in college, the less flexibility they have when they graduate. Loan payments will dictate their lives. Salary—not cultural fit, happiness, or career advancement—becomes the driving decision in choosing a job. Debt rules out internships that could lead to a top-notch job or living in pricey cities with a dynamic labor market. It also reduces the chances that a new graduate will start a business, according to research by Gallup.