Carleton Seniors and the Challenging Economy

By President Robert A. Oden Jr.

President OdenThe continuing financial turmoil and deepening recession challenge us all. Yet few of us have encountered the obstacles to finding meaningful employment that are faced by today’s college seniors. There is no average path following graduation from Carleton—just as there is nothing average about our students. Many of our graduating seniors, though, hope to work for several years before going on to graduate or professional school, and others wish to explore careers in business, education, or other fields.

Our graduates’ task is more daunting this spring because many businesses and institutions are reducing their number of employees rather than hiring new ones. Indeed, according to a recent study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer graduates out of the spring class of 2009 than they hired from the spring class of 2008. A NACE student survey reports that just 19.7 percent of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually had one by the time of graduation—in comparison to 51 percent of those graduating in 2007 who had applied for jobs prior to graduation.

However, Carleton’s seniors are better equipped to face such challenges as a result of the Career Center’s many initiatives. Under the leadership of Career Center director Richard Berman, and with the assistance of his great staff, the new Carleton Careers Alumni Board, and members of the Parents Advisory Council, almost every initiative is built around the Carleton community of alumni and parents. 

The Carleton Scholars program, initiated by the Parents Advisory Council three years ago, is one example. During term breaks, students tour several organizations in a particular field such as public policy, green technology, business, film and television, public health and medicine, and more. With the Career Center staff’s leadership and logistical support, Carleton alumni and parents have exposed students to a variety of professions in New York, San Francisco, Denver, Boulder, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Students who have participated in the programs routinely describe their experience as transforming and enjoyable—and say that they learned more in four days than they had imagined possible. 

Other existing programs include Carleton Chapters (where students participate in group discussions or one-on-one interviews with Carleton alumni and parents in a given field); Mentor Externships (in which students are linked with alumni for one- to four-week “short internships” that include a focus project and usually a home-stay with the alumni host; see "Manhattan Transfer," page 36, for an example); Service Fellowships (funded by two Carleton families, this program—entering its seventh year—allows undergraduates to participate in lengthy service projects around the globe); and Engagement Wanted (launched in April, this high-tech version of situation-wanted ads links current students and recent graduates with parents and alumni who have offered to assist them in their career discovery).

New programs that are planned to launch in 2010 include Groundhog Days (which allows students to “shadow” alumni/parent volunteers in the Twin Cities); Firesides (which matches a third-term junior with an alumnus or parent mentor for a year); Sponsored Internships (which are funded, full-length internships sponsored by alumni, parents, and friends, and supported through donor grants); and Career Liaisons (in which a designated Career Center staff member serves as the contact person in each academic department for all things related to career planning).

And there is more. Carleton resident advisers worked with the Career Center to sponsor “Life: Are You Ready for It?”—an event held in Great Hall in late February to help prepare students for the world after Carleton. Faculty and staff members presented information on a number of topics, including loans and budgeting, basics of auto maintenance, staying connected to Carleton, navigating a tough job market, renting apartments, cooking for one or two, and understanding job benefits.

Does this mean that the long and highly esteemed pattern of our graduates working toward PhDs and other graduate degrees or seeking experience with the Peace Corps and allied groups for a time or pursuing careers in business, education, public service, and other areas is changing? It does not. However, the advances of the Career Center do mean that the years immediately following graduation can be those of sustained learning and exploration and adventure for our graduates, whatever their eventual life choices. 

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