Where College Fails Students

In our post-2008-2009 slow growth recovery, many college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, raising questions about whether college is worthwhile. What if some of the planning for college is just plain wrong? Does the future bode ill for millions of unprepared, untrained or misdirected job seekers?

The Futurist magazine’s article late last year, “Outlook 2015: Top Trends and Forecasts for the Decade Ahead,” postulates that two billion jobs (worldwide) will disappear by 2030. The good news is that new paths are being invented to replace those jobs.

Futurist Thomas Frey says, “Among the job-inventing industries on the rise are 3-D printing, commercial drones, biofactories, personal rapid transit systems and innovative new living and learning environments such as micro colleges and senior living solutions.”

Workplace-trends consultant Edward Gordon warns, “By 2020, three-fourths of U.S. jobs will require higher skills.” And those higher skills mean higher pay and about 122 million workers will be needed, says Gordon, “but only 55 million will be qualified. High-order competencies are becoming the basic minimum requirement for essentially all U.S. jobs, but the absence of skills among American workers leaves up to 5 million available jobs vacant.” The talent gap in America and in other countries will grow as baby boomers retire and younger workers fail to acquire requisite skills.

In a 2011 New York Times op-ed piece entitled “Your So-Called Education,” professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roska cited a study of thousands of college students in over 24 diverse higher education institutions.

One finding: “Large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.”

Acknowledging a host of distractions for today students, the professors also faulted a dearth of demanding courses. The upshot? “A large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years.”

True, a nasty economic slump faced the classes of 2008-2009, but the survey findings may illustrate a fundamental weakness that has led to the high unemployment and underemployment of recent college graduates.

Parents ponder carefully the purchase of a new car or home. Nevertheless, often they send junior or sis off to college, making a major investment in tuition and other costs, but having no clue as to the point of the education.  And they are equally unclear whether the education fits their student’s talent profile, instinctive behaviors and God-given gifts.

Churches, like employers, need people who can effectively carry out the mission of the organization, a quest challenged by growing needs and reliance on unpaid volunteers. Some churches have turned to a discipline outlined in material from Gallup Press, including the bestseller Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath (2007). The goal is an organization that uses its people’s real capabilities.

What is a strength? Forget working on your weaknesses, advises Rath. Decades of research indicates that “most successful people start with dominant talent, and then add skills, knowledge and practice to the mix.” A strength is “a powerful, productive combination of talent, skill and knowledge.”           

Maria C. Forbes is a team-building consultant in Norcross, Ga. (http://www.firepowerteams.com), who is leading a group developing “Living Your Strengths” at St. Brigid Catholic Church in nearby Johns Creek. Helping parishioners to identify their top five dominate strengths as a key to effective and motivated action, she said, “ I wish I had learned this when I was in college.”

Potential and current college students undergo a plethora of tests to measure academic skills, intelligence and personality. What is missing are assessments that pinpoint instinctive behaviors and natural talents that they can develop, by focusing on strengths. Maria Forbes uses proven diagnostics and analysis to help students determine their best career paths. If a student finds success and validation through applying that strength, he or she is more likely to finish in four years, and target a meaningful career path or go on to post-graduate education.

That lesson applies not only to students but to anyone in any life transitions. As the late business guru Peter Drucker emphasized, “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong … And yet, a person can perform only from strength.”

The gift of self-knowledge is priceless.

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Lewis Walker, CFP, is president of Walker Capital Management, LCC in Peachtree Corners, Ga. Securities and certain advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker is a registered representative of The SFA, which is otherwise unaffiliated with Walker Capital Management. 770-441-2603. [email protected].

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