The recession has guided Americans’ decisions about travel, health care and even what brand of soda to purchase. So it makes sense that, as the country has shed some 3.6 million jobs during this recession, college students and academic advisers are increasingly engaging in recession-proof career planning.
Today, more students are stepping onto campuses with early questions about where their education will fit, says Charlie Nutt, executive director of the National ACademic ADvising Association.
He says the role of academic adviser has evolved to not only understand what majors exist but to understand the concept of career development. He identifies a growing trend of stronger collaboration between the academic advising and career development centers on college campuses. In some cases the centers have merged.
“I think students who are coming in are having those discussions (about future employment) and are having them more than they have in the past,” Nutt says.
Students’ fixation on the future has changed the way schools help them prepare for the next step. “Advising has changed to encourage students to think about skills for the future and to anticipate jobs that may surface by the time they graduate,” Nutt says. “It’s not so much the major as it is the skills and the abilities that you leave college with.”
Many recession-proof careers don’t require four years and thousands of dollars worth of education. CNN.com names pharmaceuticals, Internet sales, information technology and accounting among the most in-demand jobs. And according to the Robert Half International Salary Guide, office training and administration is the most in-demand skill of 2009. Education for these careers can largely be obtained by securing an associate degree or certificate from a community college or vocational school.
Because President Barack Obama’s stimulus package has generated a demand for jobs in the industries of science and technology, community colleges and vocational schools have seen record enrollment as Americans seek the swift and specific education needed to secure such jobs, Community College Times reports.
Nonetheless, Katherine Stahl, executive director of American University’s career center, still advises students to pursue their passions but to be realistic about their choices. “You don’t want people artificially lining up a career that doesn’t interest them. [But] you want them to think out of the box,” she says. It’s about “being intelligent and thinking about what the world needs and how I can be a part of it.”
The trend she sees among AU students is the desire for public service jobs. “We have a lot of students who are really interested in public service and there’s a huge surge in the country of public service,” Stahl says, noting the surplus of federal jobs created by the stimulus. The expansion of agencies like Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Personnel and the U.S. General Services Administration generate space for a variety of careers in business, psychology and law.
But the grab-a-job-and-go approach to college raises questions about its importance as a place for life-long learners. Nutt says he doesn’t believe the current job market will diminish the value of college. He says postsecondary institutions are responding to the immediate need to put Americans to work but the fundamental value and tradition of college is a mainstay.
“Right now the key issue is getting back into the work force,” he says. “But what’s going to make the difference in moving forward? It’s going to be that baccalaureate degree.”
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