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Can Students Succeed after Graduation?

College and University - Student Professional Life and Experience after Graduation

The modern experience of college or university in the United States is, in many ways, poorly suited to prepare students for today's dynamic and competitive economy. The reality of this situation has been lessened, or masked, by the historically low unemployment rate. However, with the inevitability of a recession on the horizon, this mismatch between the aptitudes and capacities of students and recent graduates and the demands of the modern workplace will become more pronounced and visible in the near future. This paper will briefly analyze three ways in which college graduates are unprepared to meet the needs of employers: risk tolerance, capacity for critical and independent thinking, and the application of practical, technical skills.

Student Assignment

The first of the three highlighted factors is the relative risk tolerance, or lack thereof, of many recent graduates. The increasingly competitive nature of high school and college admissions has acculturated students-particularly those from upper middle class and upper class backgrounds-toward following linear pre-determined paths toward academic and career success. These students have been enrolled in extracurricular activities, encouraged to take AP classes, thoroughly coached, and had their academic and career paths molded by the adults around them, whether parents or school officials. This highly prescriptive norm has prepared students do well on standardized tests and by academic metrics, but has not developed a healthy sense of risk or a capacity for outside the box choices or decision making. This is a constraining factor for employers in that, while many graduates will make serviceable employees, the number that are willing to think creatively or take calculated risks is limited, impairing their long-term growth potential within companies and in the broader economy at large.

The second factor is tied inextricably to the first: students whose paths have largely been set by others and who are accustomed to assessing their worth and relative success through letter grades often lack higher-level critical thinking skills (which could be learned on academic research websites, for example The modern economy is dynamic and competitive. Without the capacity to address problems from new perspectives or outside the confines of traditional paradigms, the upside of many college graduates for employers is limited. Critical thinking is a skill that is developed through time and application; schools that teach to the test and over-emphasize traditional metrics of success will, by definition, struggle to produce graduates comfortable with analytical thinking and creative problem solving (refer to:

The third area in which college and university graduates lack the skills needed for the modern economy concerns technical and practical training. Much of college is focused on the reading of obtuse academic texts (the writings of academics on other academics) and increasingly arcane theoretical specializations. This approach is well-suited to ensuring job security for academics who, after all, are always able to write increasingly narrow interpretations of their peers' work, but it does not serve any pratical purpose in the workforce. It has become all too common for lawyers to graduate law school having never been in a classroom or written a practical legal document, for nurses to have spent too much time reading academic literature to the exclusion of their practical skills, and for teachers to read research on teaching, while not actually receiving any training on how to teach. It is difficult to see the use of theories of education when each emerging cohort of teachers does not know how to control a classroom, how to impart information successfully or how to present information in ways that are meaningful, intuitive and engaging for their pupils.