Arkansas Membership Coordinator: Student Engagement as Career Prep

John Fincher, Membership Coordinator Arkansas

July 29, 2018

July marked the beginning of Arkansas’ second year of a productivity-based funding model for higher education and the third year of Regional Workforce Grants to encourage institutions to increase career and technical education offerings.  Both have resulted in additional funding for higher education, along with a clear emphasis on how increasing postsecondary credential completion can impact economic development in the state.  While the connection to some areas of student affairs seem more direct than others, it is important to remember the vital role we all play in preparing students for career success.

In an era of Twitter, 24-hour cable news, BuzzFeed, and the like are blurring the lines between the dissemination of information and opinions, even the most casual observer of higher education is familiar with the ever-growing rhetoric debating the value of a college education in today’s society.  Pundits and observers argue whether institutions of higher education are losing the ability to produce career-ready graduates, admonish increasing debt for diminishing returns, and generally add fuel to an increasingly heated dialogue.  Without examining the validity of the allegations, or the credentials of many of these critics, it is easy to pinpoint a polarizing question at the heart of this discourse: Is college about the pursuit of knowledge or increasing earnings potential? 

For those of us in student affairs, I believe the only answer to this question is both.  Just as higher education offers students the opportunity to learn both inside and outside of the classroom, it also offers students the opportunity to prepare for life both in career and in society…and student affairs plays an important role in preparing for success in both.  The value of student engagement, specifically experiential and co-curricular learning, as an aspect of career preparation can often be undervalued.  The relationship between a student’s co-curricular experiences and the development of the interpersonal skills that can lead to future career success, and ultimately a sense of satisfaction, is too often left out of the discussion. 

According to research by the Workforce Solutions Group (White, 2013), the majority of employers felt that new college graduates were alarmingly unprepared for the workplace.  The researchers cite the lack of vital soft skills needed in any work environment.  Graduates heading into the workplace were said to be unable to “communicate with authority figures, prioritize and organize their work, analyze information, manage projects, work in teams and with diverse groups” (White, 2013).  These highly sought-after, but apparently difficult to find, abilities will sound familiar to any student affairs practitioner as the outcomes numerous types of student programming and engagement.  It is a mistake for us to frame the results of involvement in co-curricular engagement as anything less than the development of these important career skills.  When institutions do not embrace the parallel outcomes, they risk creating artificial silos and thus suppressing potential collaborations and innovation.  Like any organization, institutions of higher education are at a disadvantage when all parts are not working toward common goals.  This is true of examining the roles played in the development of whole graduates, including the development of career soft skills. 

Participation in undertakings such as leadership training, student government, debate team, Greek life, service learning, and intercollegiate athletics, to name just a few, supplement the lessons of the classroom with direct experiential learning.  Regardless of functional area, all student affairs practitioners should take seriously their ability to be a part of leading institutions beyond traditional career preparation and embrace our responsibility for ensuring students leave as graduates prepared for the modern workplace.


White, C. M. (2013, November). The real reason new college grads can’t get hired. Time.

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