It’s August again – For those of us in higher education, that means long commutes amidst the rental trucks and loaded down SUVs as parents ferry their kids once again back to campus and into the dorms and myriad apartments that seem to stretch for miles in all directions.
It’s time to gear up for the return to the classroom and the start of the new academic year (whether your student is five or fifty-five!). For some, it’s a time of great excitement (my oldest daughter is tremendously excited for the classes that will make up her senior year of high school). For others, anxiety and resignation reign supreme (my youngest would certainly opt for a month or two of summer before starting her sophomore year).
Yet, for those who have graduated in recent months, this can be a rather unsettling period. The honeymoon of the post-commencement period (regardless of the educational level) is fading fast, and for many who had grown used to life in the classroom, the transition looms…from student to graduate.
Now, most of the students I teach are adult learners. They already have full-time jobs, with years of work experience. Most never quit working to pursuing their graduate degrees. But now what? With Master’s degrees in hand, what will they do?
For many graduates of professional degree programs, the post-commencement period is a challenging one. Often it’s filled with a mixture of relief, pride in their accomplishment, and optimism in the opportunities ahead. But, when opportunities fail to emerge immediately, student loan deferments expire, and they find themselves unrecognized by employers for the new knowledge and skills they’ve developed, well, the positive feelings can quickly fade.
Clearly, effectively marketing oneself and move up the career ladder is the primary responsibility of the individual. I would agree wholeheartedly with that. But what can we faculty do to help facilitate better transitions of our newly minted alumni?
For starters, we can be advocates for the very education we provided. And I don’t mean simply touting our academic regalia like peacocks on display. We can take a more active role in promoting the awareness of our programs, as they relate to our individual students in a proactive, positive, and productive manner.
From the day our students enter our graduate programs, we should be taking the opportunity to connect deeply with them, understanding their histories, their desires, and their long-term professional goals. For starters, that will make us more effective instructors, able to tailor the ways in which we present the themes and concepts of our curricula. But deeper, we will be able to help guide their expectations and their engagement in combining their professional and educational tracks.
What if we were to invite the direct supervisors of our entering students to a “meet and greet” informational session through which we began building the understanding of the students’ organizations about the academic journey along which their employees would be embarking? What if we engaged managers, supervisors, and executives at the adult learners’ companies in providing frequent reviews of assignments and learning objectives of the students themselves? Why not build applied research programs that address the specific needs of these organizations while their employees were in our classrooms? And what if, upon graduation, we once again helped our exiting students promote their newly conferred degrees with another reception of workplace leaders, to complete the learning circle and to further raise the awareness of the larger contributions our graduates could immediately make in their offices?
We’ll never be able to guarantee graduates a job, more money, or even greater responsibility as a result of our degree programs (although in many cases, trends have indicated a higher likelihood of each). But what a difference we could make by incorporating these practices into our academic programs to enhance the chances of greater awareness of what our graduates “bring to the table!”
The fact is, even with shrinking development dollars in most organizations, many of our students are receiving tuition reimbursement (or other support) for taking our classes and working toward our degrees. So, why not actively partner with these employer organizations in a way that benefits all three, the employers, the students/graduates, AND our institution of higher education?
Employers get a more highly educated and skilled workforce (even if simply through increased awareness OF their workforce). Our students (and eventual graduates) get greater exposure and opportunity that leverages their increased (applied) education (driving a stronger sense of purpose = engagement). And our institutions become a trusted “business” partner for employers, who will encourage more of their employees to enter our graduate programs into the future. It’s a win-win-win for all.
So, yes, the start of the new school year can be an exciting…but it’s high time we stepped out from behind our lecterns and into our adult learners’ lives.