Higher ed seeking new ways to spur interest and access to workforce development

Institutions and advocacy organizations are using program creation and scholarship support to expose students to higher paying career options

Online career support company Sokanu recently surveyed nearly 22,000 college graduates to find answers to one of higher education’s most pressing questions: can you earn a degree in a field that you love and make money doing it?

The results of the survey were less than surprising; jobs that are among the most in-demand and high-paying among employers are among the least popular among college students, and degrees with the lowest levels of earning potential are among the programs attracting the greatest number of students.

According to Sokanu, the top five degree programs posting high levels of satisfaction are Women’s Studies, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Social Psychology, Applied Mathematics and Philosophy and Religious Studies. Degree programs with little creativity in the learning or career development process — Operations Logistics and E-commerce, Medical Assisting, Automotive Repair, Medical Administration and Accounting — all placed as the least satisfying degree programs.

But somewhere in between the nation’s workforce imperatives and millennial approaches to professional satisfaction is the notion that colleges and universities have to work to meet the needs of both constituent groups. And while it may present a significant challenge, some schools and organizations are achieving the objective with specific initiatives to increase exposure and build interest in a variety of fields.

Engaging students for professional outcomes

The United Negro College Fund this week announced a $35 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to spur career development and preparation at 24 universities nationwide. Selected schools submitted proposals for the Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), outlining their visions for bridging academic, career advisement and internship modules to help create stronger workforce pipelines and job readiness among 54,000 students, many of whom are from low-income households and are the first in their families to attend college.

UNCF officials say the program has a two-pronged approach of exposing and inspiring students to careers which may not be accessible, or even visible, in most communities.

“There’s a direct correlation between low-wealth and awareness of opportunities that are out there,” says CPI Director Edward Smith-Lewis. “Many students come to our schools wanting to be social workers, teachers, police officers and counselors, because those are the positions and the people whom they see in their communities."

Smith-Lewis says the program also encourages faster completion of undergraduate work, and that by limiting the amount of time spent pursuing a degree and reducing costs overall, helps in the effort to expedite exposure to co-curricular internships and research projects highlighting multiple careers.

“We believe that by building awareness and building confidence in students to explore and to apply themselves, it helps them to make strategic choices about job and career planning. So if they decide to take a job that begins with a $30,000 salary, they do so understanding all of the possible career options and with a wealth of information.”

Florida Memorial University is one of the pilot institutions in the initiative.

“Our goal for these young people is to help them find their passion. A job that you don’t enjoy doing everyday is a sentence, not a career,” says Florida Memorial University President Roslyn Clark-Artis. “But we’re also charged with maximizing that interest, so showing more opportunities in their chosen career fields is our charge as an institution.”

Clark-Artis says that criminal justice is the largest major at the private Miami Gardens institution. With criminal justice as its largest major, she says that the institutional goal is to help students understand the global need for a diverse industrial talent pool while visualizing career options beyond the most visible jobs in the industry.

“There is nothing wrong with working as a beat cop, security guard, or working in prisons, but cybersecurity and white collar crime prevention which post higher entry-level salaries and at the same time, fulfill career passions, that’s what we’re working to build student interest in,” Clark-Artis says.

Advancing doctoral-level training in low-earning fields

While degree programs like counseling and psychology may yield low-paying entry-level employment, some institutions are working to meld career passions with advanced degree offerings. Last week, Shippensburg University announced a new doctoral program in counselor education and supervision, the third such offering in Pennsylvania and only the second doctoral degree offered at the institution.

Officials said that when launched in the fall of 2017, the degree program will complement the school’s current master’s offering in counseling, and will pair with the state’s growing need for mental health professionals. According to state statistics, Pennsylvania’s mental health sector is projected to post a near 40% increase in the number of therapists, counselors and paraprofessionals needed in the next 8 years.

“Our emphasis will be on training advanced practitioners, clinical supervision and program leadership. Our graduates will add a critical layer of expertise to the counseling community,” says Kurt Kraus, Chair of Shippensburg’s Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel.

Part of the school’s engagement strategy is to target working professionals with blended on-site and online offerings. He also has hopes for the new doctoral students, who will likely enter as professionals working in counseling or related jobs, to serve as mentors to the undergraduate students.

“When you’re trying to address a shortage, you don’t want to pull people out of their existing jobs,” he says.

Filed Under: Higher Ed