Do Colleges Prepare Students for a First Job or a Career? The Answer May Not Be So Simple.


As the debate about the value of a college education continues in the media and in government, a new study, by the Association of American Colleges & Universities seems to bring up more questions than they answered. The Chronicle of Higher Education also weighed in with an article this week titled Colleges Say They Prepare Students for a Career, Not Just a First Job. Is That True? While perhaps fair & balanced, the article did not dare to do more than raise the same questions. Sometimes news media simply reports and doesn’t help clear things up. So what do we know?

The fact is that while the evidence does support that colleges prepare students for their first job, the debate is about whether college prepares them for their second job and their actual career. One view is that colleges do so by encouraging a broad curriculum and soft skills in addition to hard skills. The opposing view is that colleges do not prepare students well and instead it is up to the first employer to complete the training.

I believe that both views are incomplete. The reality is that students need to do more than just follow course outlines, memorize the material, and keep their grades up. They will need to do this both while in college, and once they start their first job. College forms the infrastructure for students to do this, the “frame” of the building if you will. However, it is up to the students to add the substance, or to follow the analogy, the bracing, walls, plumbing, wiring, and amenities to make the building livable.

Learning has to come from both the institution and the student, it is a symbiotic relationship. Colleges and universities provide the best possible learning environment for this relationship to flourish, but employers can certainly complement that as well. As a matter of fact, the best thing a student can learn is to love the act of learning. This is how they eventually outgrow each environment and progress to the next.

Another important fact is that while employers may not always encourage their students to move on, colleges and universities do. As a matter of fact, that is their entire reason for being. This is why they are ultimately better suited to teach. Yes, employers do teach as well, but only to a point where the ROI is met. This is why the eventual separation is often ungraceful and sometimes even contentious. Again, because of the innate structure of education to move students on, this is ironically also where these students learn to best manage these separations.

While I realize my argument is simplified and symbolic, the fact is that the data supports it. Whether we consider the study by the Association of American Colleges & Universities or the many articles that attempt to discuss this difficult topic fairly in the media, most support the argument. Yes, students must do more than the bare minimum to truly succeed in college, their first job and their careers, but ultimately it is the educational institutions that build the best springboards to success.

This is a guest blog post by Michael Koetsier, Director of Operations at the Colégas Group. It is part of a newsletter I publish weekly called The Gigster 'Zine, also a production of the Colégas Group. To learn more about us, to receive valuable strategies for improvement, and to find innovative employment opportunities, sign up for the complete newsletter at