Amid the constant reports of increased enrollment in colleges across the country, and the boom in state college attendance, it is easy to lose sight of a simple notion. Are we actually prepared for life after college?
College students as a group are failing to distinguish themselves as ready for the workforce. Instead, they are failing in classes.
In a new study that tracked over 2,000 college students at 24 universities nation-wide over the course of four years, all reports said college students still lacked the critical thinking skills needed to adapt and be a viable part in a changing workforce. It also indicated that 35 percent of students studied five hours or less per week and less than half enrolled in courses that required over 20 pages of writing.
Nowadays, a college student can’t go anywhere without a barrage of reminders on how poor the job market is. Professors, job recruiters, family members and friends love to remind students how this is the worst time to be looking to start a career. The economics department gets honors for doing so most consistently and vigorously.
Is this lack of career preparedness in college a reflection of our received dismal outlook on the job market, or a reflection of faults in education itself?
On one hand, if one is not working toward a foreseeable goal, then what’s the point of working? Many students simply feel overwhelmed when it comes to thinking about their future and the job market today. No one wants to rush into unemployment, and justifiably so. If these challenges are really as insurmountable as we are told, then studying and preparing less to face these challenges may be a natural defense mechanism. After all, it makes little sense to prepare for an impossible situation. Maybe studying less is a way of feeling in control of our failure—if we sabotage ourselves then at least we need not ponder the forces beyond our individual control that batter us around like leaves in a whipping wind. The blame lies all with us.
On the other hand, this problem stretches farther than both the universities and ourselves. In New York state, public high schools are far behind other states in graduation rates and producing "college-and career-ready" graduates, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal reported.
New York state high schools hand diplomas to 77 percent of students, but only 41 percent are labeled as "college-and career-ready." In this case, the term "college-and career-ready" refers to a student who scores an 80 or higher on the math regents exam and a 75 on the English regents. The numbers only get worse from there: in New York City, only 23 percent wear the career-ready tag, while in Rochester, only an astounding 5 percent make the cut.
Some minority groups in New York state are struggling to reach that distinction, too. While African-American students graduate at a 62 percent rate, only 15 percent have the college- and career-ready tag. Locally, an eye-opening 1 percent of all Hispanic students in Syracuse reach that mark.
While college students’ apathy may be pervading through the high school ranks, and continued academic cuts across the board will only hurt these numbers further, the burden still rests with us to control what we can.
Yet, it seems that more and more students are stumbling into a four-year college just because it’s just "the next step in the process." Like lambs to the slaughter, they are ignorant of what really lies ahead. It isn’t necessarily wrong to wash into the university system, but it is not the best entrance; it contributes to the downward spiral of student engagement and career awareness on this campus.
Oswego State students are doing extraordinary things on campus. They are directing plays, running student government and inventing new ways of thinking and researching. But, because students are studying and doing less than they have ever done, it has become too simple to distinguish one’s self with an average work ethic and study habits. That is not where we want the bar set in higher education.