What does a College Degree mean these Days?

I was paid a visit by a friend of my oldest son this past Saturday. It had been three years since I had seem him. He is now a college graduate with a degree in International Studies. We spent a bit of time together catching up. He spoke a great deal about his college experience and especially his semester abroad in London. He had grown into a fine young man.

He also shared his future plans with me. He expressed tremendous frustration that his plans were on hold because he had trouble finding a job. He asked if I could help. He told me what he was looking for. I told him I would do my best and promised to get back to him in a few days.

After he left, I felt angrier by the minute. Growing up I was told that if I went to college, finding work would not be a problem. An implied promise — finish school and you’ll be ok! And we told that to our children and it seems that it is no longer true. No guarantees. Now I am all for higher education, I still think it is a ticket to a better life, but it has been so tough for this generation. It is not fair. (Newsweek featured this nation-wide frustration last week, dubbing it “Generation Screwed,” definitely check it out).

But imagine this, if it is a tough time for all those young men and women with newly acquired college degrees to find work, then how about those men and women that come to Per Scholas for our tuition-free job training who live at and below the poverty line — many having been born and raised in poverty? They often don’t have the academic skills of a college graduate. They do not have the support system of a middle or upper class family to see them through a rough patch. They statistically lack the confidence to break the cycle in which they are trapped.

We figure it out at Per Scholas. Our folks get training not just for the job, but how to start a career, how to get that first job. I believe that our Career Development course which makes up 12 course days over the 15-week training is the difference between a well trained candidate and a candidate getting hired. Maybe that is what we need for these college kids — support post-graduation, coaching on getting that interview, selling yourself to the hiring manager, and landing that first job — structured, strategic support so that they can transition a lot sooner into the next phase of their lives. Isn’t that something we should do?

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