Degree-seekers increase

;Editor’s note: The following article is the first in a series of four that looks at how well University academics prepare students for life after college. Today’s article focuses on how valuable college degrees and classes actually are. Tuesday’s article will question student leaders on whether their academic experience has been as valuable as their leadership experience.

Although psychology senior Lindsay Andrews said she received a well-rounded education at the University, she still wants to go to graduate school to increase her chances of finding a job.

“There are not many jobs you can get without going to graduate school for psychology,” said Andrews, who will graduate in December.

Andrews is part of a growing percentage of people in the United States who have earned bachelor’s degrees in the last 10 years. Like Andrews, more people are pursuing graduate degrees. More are also attending vocational school.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2004 that 85 percent of people age 25 and older have completed at least high school and 27 percent have attained at least a bachelor’s degree. Both percentages are record highs.

Craig Swan, University vice provost for undergraduate education, said one reason college attendance is up is that more young people and their parents are realizing the value of a college education.

“To succeed in the global economy, a college education is increasingly important,” Swan said.

College can have an important impact on a person’s life as well, he said.

“A college education, if done right, gives students certain habits of mind that enrich their lives,” he said.

Rick Moore, senior editor for University Relations, said a college degree is seen as more of a baseline requirement – the way a high school diploma might have been viewed a few decades ago.

“It’s not that a bachelor’s degree guarantees you any fabulous career,” he said. “It’s that not having one really limits you, especially with the competitiveness of today’s job economy.”

As more people are earning bachelor’s degrees, more in the United States are also pursuing graduate school degrees.

At the University, enrollment in graduate studies has steadily increased since 1999, when the University switched from quarters to semesters.

Abu Jalal, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, said that because of the economic situation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a job. Graduate school might help in the process, he said.

“With more education, it’s easier to find a job,” he said.

Jalal said the advantage of having a bachelor’s degree is slowly declining as employers seek out employees with more advanced degrees.

A master’s in business administration is an example of a degree that is increasingly sought after, he said.

Moore said that there has been an increase in students interested in graduate school because of today’s competitive job economy. He said people with bachelor’s degrees are having trouble getting good jobs.

“So it makes sense to get an advanced degree to make them more marketable,” he said.

An increase in international student enrollment applications is another reason for higher graduate school enrollment, Jalal said.

The University has put more effort into recruiting international students and is getting better at catering to their needs, he said.

“The University is more visible to students outside of Minnesota now,” Jalal said.

Although a larger percentage of the population is earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, there are also more people going to vocational schools.

Tom Okore, operations director at the Midwest Career Institute in Minneapolis, said that the institute has seen an increase in enrollment in the last three years.

Okore said most students at the institute do not want the “rigor and trouble” of going to a school for four years.

“They look for something short and quick that will put them in the job market right away,” he said.

In Minnesota, career training for people in vocational school is cheaper, Okore said.

“Most people can go to (vocational) school without necessarily being in debt,” he said.

Most vocational schools do not expect students to take extraneous classes and fulfill “unnecessary” requirements, as many universities and colleges do, he said. This might improve students’ chances of finding jobs, Okore said.

“(Career school students) are more likely to get jobs, because they are training in something that is relevant to the field right away,” he said.

Job market and support

Jerry Rinehart, associate vice provost for student affairs, said the University is trying to “step up their efforts” to help students with career support and goal planning. Career-related support centers are too inconsistent across campus, as some are well-supported and focused, and others don’t have adequate resources, he said.

Rinehart said he is working with a committee across the campus to create a survey that will get information about University graduates at one, three, five, 10, 15 and 20 years after graduation.

The surveys are an effort to assess how the University is doing in preparing students for life after the University, he said.

“Career support and goal planning for students is a high priority for student affairs and for many of our academic offices,” Rinehart said.

Swan said a University graduate’s chances in the job market are “absolutely terrific.”

“We recruit very good students, and if they are serious about their education, they will have all sorts of opportunities -unbounded opportunities,” he said.

For students who want to go directly into the business world, the only thing holding them back is their own initiative, Swan said.

“I have utter and complete faith in the opportunities that a University of Minnesota education will provide students,” he said.

A student’s perspective

Some required courses recent graduate Brandon Macon took were useless, he said, because they did not teach him anything new; other courses expanded on the knowledge he had.

Macon said he wishes his education had more networking opportunities.

“You never know what you can find out just from talking with someone,” he said.

Macon said that if he could redo his college experience, he would attend a different school.

Some professors at the University did not care about their jobs, Macon said.

“I had a lot of problems with professors,” he said. “I had to go through millions of people just to get help.”

Macon said his internship experiences prepared him more for postgraduation life than his degree.

“School prepared me with the knowledge, and internships prepared me to apply the knowledge,” Macon said.

“If I didn’t have any internships, I wouldn’t have been as prepared for the work world.”

Macon has a degree in business and marketing education from the College of Education and Human Development. He had three internships at the Sabathani Community Center in business and administration, marketing and accounting.

Currently, he is a financial services officer for Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. He said transitioning into the work environment was challenging.

“Working is totally different than going to school,” Macon said.

Being a reliable, trustworthy and coachable person are good skills to have, he said.

“You have to listen twice as much as you talk,” Macon said.

He said there is much more competition in the workforce than he expected. Employers want people with experience and confidence, Macon said.

“When you interview for jobs, don’t be timid,” he said. “Ask questions – more questions.”

What recruiters look for

When hiring, recruiters look closely at a graduate’s grade point average, internships, organization memberships and leadership positions, said Heather Elder, a Carlson Cos. recruiter, who works closely with undergraduate and graduate students.

Her duties include building relationships with students and colleges, interviewing and selecting students for internships, and making sure students have good internship experiences.

“I manage the program from the beginning to the end,” Elder said.

Carlson Cos. is a large, private corporation that operates in multiple business industries. Most of the graduates it employs are recruited out of the Midwest from state universities, she said.

Elder said Carlson Cos. focuses primarily on recruiting from business schools.

“We need to hire people with business majors,” Elder said. “Majors need to reflect the business we are in as a company.”

Recent graduates usually start small and work their way up, she said.

“Typically, new graduates come through entry-level-type positions,” Elder said. “From there, they can move up horizontally and vertically in terms of their career.”