In “Put Undergraduates to Work, for Their Own Good,” John A. Fry, president of Drexel University, writes that despite an improving economy, eager and talented new college graduates are still encountering significant difficulty in securing jobs, explaining that parents turn to colleges and universities expecting higher returns for the significant investment in their children’s education. In “What It Takes to Make New College Graduates Employable,” Alina Tugend posits why this gap between what colleges produce and what employers want is widening, citing reasons such as: “when it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.” Fry believes that in order to start closing this gap, access to a college education is no longer enough, and that “colleges and universities must complement a traditional education with real experience, including authentic connections to the workplace.”
Fry states that many people argue for the expansion of internships, but that that’s an “outdated answer,” where internships are too short and not in-depth enough—usually more job-shadowing than job-doing— and believes a better option is to require students to participate in real-life job experiences (or co-operative work experience) before graduation. Fry argues that co-op jobs: “provide students with opportunities to apply their knowledge and acquire the practical know-how that employers value;” “inject a healthy dose of reality;” and “allow students to identify skills they lack, areas that need improvement, and even whether the career path is right for them.” Fry also points out that if a student can demonstrate an ability to add value, it’s highly likely that the co-op employer will offer a full-time position upon graduation, and conversely, “employer input helps colleges recalibrate their curricula so academics and workplace skills are better aligned.” Fry realizes that the co-op model is neither easy nor cheap, however, can be built and expanded over time, bridging the gap between a college education and the needs of employers. What other ways might help bridge the gap?