Final Thoughts: "Life Plan"
In "Struggling to Launch," a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeff Selingo acknowledges the rocky job prospects for new graduates in the current economy. Liberal arts colleges have been taking a hit in many editorials lately, but Selingo actually laments that the proliferation of vocational and applied programs at American colleges and universities has largely failed to equip this generation of college graduates for the job market. By contrast, he admits that “some of the most innovative ideas for helping recent graduates find work are coming from a sector that has long felt uncomfortable with the concept of preparing their students for jobs: liberal-arts colleges." The liberal arts colleges that have succeeded, he maintains, are those that link career planning more closely with “the academic functions of the institution." I would be interested in learning of any faculty who would like to explore some of these links—and the work of the most innovative liberal arts colleges—with us.
Recently, President Beebe challenged us to consider how we might help Westmont students develop a "Life Plan." In the coming year, we will be focusing especially on the first three years out of college—the time when students indeed are often "struggling to launch." Much of the evidence we often cite to affirm the value of the liberal arts focuses on the career trajectories of distinguished alums a decade or so after their graduation. But much recent scholarship on this generation of students also underscores that more and more college graduates are now “drifting” in their mid-20’s, as the so-called gap years between adolescence and adulthood increase.
With that challenge in mind, we do want to identify some very specific ways that we can assist students to make more coherent and compelling plans for their transitions from Westmont to graduate study or employment opportunities. One of the best ways of affirming the value of the liberal arts, I believe, is to help students perceive how the imagination, discernment and skills acquired during their college years do indeed prepare them to make a successful bridge into post-baccalaureate study and employment. Without succumbing to a narrow vocationalism, we can serve our students by being sure that they have the specific skills for that transition—from writing resumes to practicing interviews to researching opportunities to developing portfolios, etc. How can we cultivate these skills in ways that seem a part of the "academic functions of the institution," rather than a peripheral concern, sometimes sought only in the uncertainty of the final semester of a senior year?
Jane Higa, Dana Alexander, Celia Howen and I met recently for a preliminary discussion of what we might do to refine our strategies for helping students "launch," and we are able to draw upon the good work of the Experiential Education Task Force, co-chaired by Jennifer Taylor and Tom Knecht. Any faculty and staff with a special interest in pursuing these ideas further with us should let me know.