Hello, can someone from Rudy Redmonds office call me at 210-909-1104 K/C/P Faculty Fellow 
Camilyah Johnson Buxton 210-909-1104    On Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 11:35:14 AM CST, Redmond, Rudy (DELEG) <[log in to unmask]> wrote:  
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January 3, 2010

 Career U.
Making College ‘Relevant’ 

 THOMAS COLLEGE, aliberal arts school in Maine, advertisesitself as Home of the Guaranteed Job! Students who can’t find work intheir fields within six months of graduation can come back to take classesfree, or have the college pay their student loans for a year.

The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, iseliminating its philosophy major, while Michigan State University isdoing away with American studies and classics, after years of decliningenrollments in those majors. 

And in a class called “TheEnglish Major in the Workplace,” at the University of Texas, Austin,students read “Death of a Salesman” but also learn to network,write a résumé and come off well in an interview. 

Even before they arrive on campus,students — and their parents — are increasingly focused on whatcomes after college. What’s the return on investment, especially as thecost of that investment keeps rising? How will that major translate into a job?

The pressure on institutions toanswer those questions is prompting changes from the admissions office to thecareer center. But even as they rush to prove their relevance, colleges anduniversities worry that students are specializing too early, that they are sofocused on picking the perfect major that they don’t allow time forself-discovery, much less late blooming. 

“The phrase drives me crazy— ‘What are you going to do with your degree?’ — but Isee increasing concerns about that,” says Katharine Brooks, director ofthe liberal arts career center at the University of Texas, Austin, and authorof “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path From Chaos to Career.”“Particularly as money gets tighter, people are going to demand moreaccountability from majors and departments.”

Consider the change captured inthe annual survey by the University of California, Los Angeles, of more than 400,000 incoming freshmen. In 1971, 37percent responded that it was essential or very important to be “verywell-off financially,” while 73 percent said the same about“developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” In 2009, the valueswere nearly reversed: 78 percent identified wealth as a goal, while 48 percentwere after a meaningful philosophy. 

The shift in attitudes isreflected in a shifting curriculum. Nationally, business has been the mostpopular major for the last 15 years. Campuses also report a boom in publichealth fields, and many institutions are building up environmental science andjust about anything prefixed with “bio.” Reflecting the neweconomic and global realities, they are adding or expanding majors in Chineseand Arabic. The University of Michigan hasseen a 38 percent increase in students enrolling in Asian language coursessince 2002, while French has dropped by 5 percent. 

Of course, universities havealways adjusted curriculum to reflect the changing world; Kim Wilcox, theprovost and vice president for academic affairs at Michigan State, notesthat universities, his included, used to offer majors in elocution and animalhusbandry. In a major re-examination of its curriculum, Michigan State hasadded a dozen or so new programs, including degrees in global studies and, inresponse to a growing industry in the state, film studies. At the same time, itis abandoning underperformers like classical studies: in the last four years,only 13 students have declared it their major.

Dropping a classics or philosophymajor might have been unthinkable a generation ago, when knowledge of the greatthinkers was a cornerstone of a solid education. But with budgets tight, suchprograms have come to seem like a luxury— or maybe an expensive antique— in some quarters.

When Louisiana’sregents voted to eliminate the philosophy major last spring, they agreed withfaculty members that the subject is “a traditional core program of abroad-based liberal arts and science institution.” But they noted that,on average, 3.4 students had graduated as philosophy majors in the previousfive years; in 2008, there were none. “One cannot help but recognize thatphilosophy as an essential undergraduate program has lost some credence amongstudents,” the board concluded.

In one recent survey, two-thirdsof public institutions said they were responding to budget cuts with extensivereviews of their programs. But Dr. Wilcox says curriculum changes at Michigan State havejust as much to do with what students, and the economy, are demanding.“We could have simply reduced the campus operating budget by Xpercent,” he says, “but we wouldn’t have positioned ourselvesany differently for the future.” 

In Michigan, wherethe recession hit early and hard, universities are particularly focused onbeing relevant to the job market. “There’s been this drumbeat that Michigan has gotto diversify its economy,” says Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan. 

Dr. Coleman says she had an“aha” moment five years ago, when the director of admissions wasdescribing the incoming class and noted that 10 percent — some 600students — had started a business in high school. The university hasresponded with about 100 entrepreneurship courses across the curriculum,including “Financing Research Commercialization” and“Engineering Social Venture Creation,” for students interested increating businesses that not only do well financially but also do society good.Next year, the university will begin offering a master’s to students whocommit to starting a high-tech company.

At the same time, Dr. Coleman iswary of training students for just one thing — “creating them to dosome little widget,” as she says. Michigan hasbegun a speaker series featuring alumni or other successful entrepreneurs whocome in to talk about how their careers benefited from what Dr. Coleman calls“core knowledge.” 

“We believe that we do ourbest for students when we give them tools to be analytical, to be able togather information and to determine the validity of that informationthemselves, particularly in this world where people don’t filter for youanymore,” Dr. Coleman says. “We want to teach them how to make anargument, how to defend an argument, to make a choice.” These are theskills that liberal arts colleges in particular have prided themselves onteaching. But these colleges also say they have the hardest time explaining thelink between what they teach and the kind of job and salary a student canexpect on the other end.

“There’s no immediateimpact, that’s the problem,” says John J. Neuhauser, the presidentof St. Michael’s College, a liberal arts school in Vermont.“The humanities tend to educate people much farther out. They’relooking for an impact that lasts over decades, not just when you’re22.”

When prospective students andtheir parents visit, he says, they ask about placement rates, internships andalumni involvement in job placement. These are questions, he says, that henever heard 10 years ago.

St. Michael’s, like othercolleges, has adapted its curriculum to reflect demand. The college had tocreate new sections of chemistry labs and calculus on the spot during summerregistration, and it raised the cap on the number of students in a biology lab.“I’d say, given the vagaries of the business cycle, people arelooking for things that they know will always be needed — accountants,scientists, mathematicians,” says Jeffrey A. Trumbower, dean of thecollege. “Those also happen to be some of the most challenging majorsacademically, so we’ll see how these trends hold up.”

Still, Dr. Neuhauser finds thecareerism troubling. “I think people change a great deal between 18 and22,” he says. “The intimate environment small liberal arts collegesprovide is a great place to grow up. But there’s no question that smacksof some measure of elitism now.”

There’s evidence, though,that employers also don’t want students specializing too soon. TheAssociation of American Colleges and Universities recently asked employers whohire at least 25 percent of their workforce from two- or four-year collegeswhat they want institutions to teach. The answers did not suggest a narrowfocus. Instead, 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the abilityto effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked forbetter “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”

“It’s not about whatyou should major in, but that no matter what you major in, you need goodwriting skills and good speaking skills,” says Debra Humphreys, a vicepresident at the association. 

The organization has conductedfocus groups with employers before and heard the same thing. With therecession, she says, they weren’t sure the findings would hold.“But it’s even more intense. Companies are demanding more ofemployees. They really want them to have a broad set of skills.” She addsthat getting employer feedback is the association service that “collegeleaders find the most valuable, because they can answer the question whenparents ask, ‘Is this going to help in getting a job?’ ”

Career advisers say that collegesand universities need to do a better job helping students understand theconnection between a degree and a job. At some institutions, this means careerofficers are heading into the classroom.

Last fall at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, thecareer office began integrating workplace lessons into capstone researchseminars for humanities majors. In one of three classes taught by AnneScholl-Fiedler, the director, she asks students to develop a 30-secondcommercial on their “personal brand.” “When somebody asks,‘How are you going to use that English degree?’ you need to be ableto clearly articulate what you are able to do,” she says. “If youdon’t know, employers probably won’t either.”

At the University of Texas, Ms.Brooks says, many parents drop their children off freshman year asking,“How can my child transfer to the business school?” She tries toestablish the value of the liberal arts with a series of courses called“The Major in the Workplace.” Students draw what she calls a“major map,” an inventory of things they have learned to do aroundtheir major. Using literature — “The Great Gatsby,” perhaps,or “Death of a Salesman” — she gets students to think abouthow the themes might apply to a workplace, then has them read Harvard BusinessReview case studies. The goal, she says, is to get students to think about howan English major (or a psychology or history major) might view the worlddifferently, and why an employer might value that. 

“There’s this linearnotion that what you major in equals your career,” Ms. Brooks says.“I’m sure it works for some majors. If you want to be an electricalengineer, that major looks pretty darn good.

“The truth is,” shesays, “students think too much about majors. But the major isn’tnearly as important as the toolbox of skills you come out with and theexperiences you have.”
Kate Zernike isa national reporter for The Times. Rachel Aviv contributed reporting.