AFT - American Federation of Teachers

Shortcut Navigation:
Email ShareThis

Speak Out, On Campus,
May/June 2012

Should career counseling be mandatory in the first year of college?

Speak Out - Julian AlssidYES

We cannot let careers just take care of themselves

Julian L. Alssid

Speak Out - Albin CofoneNO

We're too unformed at 18 to get tracked to careers

Alvine Cofone

As a freshman in the 1980s, I had little career counseling at my university. My trajectory was guided by an understanding—instilled at home—that using college to develop reading, writing and critical thinking skills meant the career would take care of itself. From a career development perspective, the world I was preparing for was not unlike the one my parents had navigated. A college degree—any degree—opened the door to a world of opportunity.

Today everything is changed. Partly a function of a tight economy, there is a growing understanding that not all college degrees are equal. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, a student’s choice of major substantially affects employment prospects and earnings. This is complicated by an economy in which jobs now appear, morph or vanish at breakneck speeds.

Further, we have learned through our work with industry-college partnerships that employers seek not just the right degree, but students who are academically proficient and able to apply themselves in a professional setting. This is where mandatory career counseling for freshmen begins.

Career counselors equipped with the latest labor market intelligence and strong industry contacts can provide freshmen with real-time information about jobs and their correlation to each student’s education, work experience and interests. The counselors help these new students understand the specific skills and aptitudes employers seek. They also ensure students pursue appropriate internships and industry-recognized credentials that may be folded into their programs.

Consider the “app economy.” Economist Michael Mandel notes that in 2007 there were zero jobs in this sector. Today, it accounts for nearly 500,000 jobs. Legions of workers are being hired as the programmers, designers, managers and marketers of this burgeoning enterprise. Mandatory career counseling, if done well, could enable freshmen to learn about this new career and organize their college experiences accordingly.

Almost all jobs these days are undergoing changes like never before, and all freshmen and upperclassmen will need the ongoing support of career counselors.

Julian L. Alssid is executive director of the Workforce Strategy Center in Barrington, Rhode Island.

When I was 18, I was certain of one thing: that I would never, ever teach. I wanted to be in the Army infantry (I wound up in the finance corps). I wanted to be an engineer blasting a Southern Pacific freight through the High Sierra (I wound up flying airplanes around Texas). Thankfully, a passing comment—“take a sociology course”—from a chummy professor in a starched oxford and sharp-looking tie changed my view of the world. Crazy? Not at all—just the 18-year-old mind in action. I didn’t know who I was. How was I to be advised on a career?

Granted, there are those with destiny stamped upon their minds at a young age. But for most of us, we’re just too unformed at 18 to make a sensible decision about a career, and that’s just fine. While colleges must give students the skills to earn a good income, they should not be sending everyone down a job path shaped by the 18-year-old brain. Students need the intellectual and social dexterity that only a wide range of courses can confer.

When I speak to freshmen at our annual orientation, I tell them not to worry about a major, that majors are artificial constructs and that few ever do what they actually studied. I tell them that after their first job, no employer will ever ask their GPA or major again. I assure them that people who smile, talk and have good manners almost always do better in life than those who don’t. I remind them they will likely change careers three times, that it is better to have the skills for all than the tools for one.

No one could have told me at 18 that college teaching would give my life such pleasure. A part of that 18-year-old boy is still happily within me, but he didn’t know who he was. He didn’t need mandatory advice; he needed to find his own direction. He needed to explore the world—and he did.

Albin Cofone is a professor of geography and College Honors Coordinator at Suffolk County Community College, where he is a member of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College/AFT.