Over the past few decades, unemployment among recent grads has gone up while average wages have gone down.

Over the past few decades, unemployment among recent grads has gone up while average wages have gone down.

Freshly minted graduates will soon take their degrees and set out into the workplace. But the path from college to career is not as obvious as it once was. Over the last few decades, unemployment among young college graduates has gone up while wages have gone down. Today, nearly half are underemployed. Add the burden of student debt and life post-graduation can seem pretty scary. A longtime chronicler of higher education says it doesn’t need to be that way. In a new book, he lays out a blue print for navigating the transition. A panel of experts joins him – and us – to discuss life after college.


  • Jeffrey Selingo Regular contributor on higher education, the Washington Post; author, "There is Life After College: What Parents And Students Should Know About Navigating School To Prepare For The Jobs Of Tomorrow"
  • Anthony Carnevale Director and research professor, Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University
  • Kristen Hamilton CEO and co-founder, Koru
  • Andy Chan Vice president for innovation and career development, Wake Forest University

Q&A With Jeff Selingo

Watch part 2 on our Facebook page.


  • 11:06:54

    MS. MELISSA BLOCKThanks for joining us. I'm Melissa Block sitting in for Diane Rehm. There's a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing about getting into college, but very little attention is paid to the transition out of college, but the step can set the course for careers and help determine future earnings. Joining me in the studio to discuss this jump into the working world, Jeffrey Selingo.

  • 11:07:17

    MS. MELISSA BLOCKHe's the author of the new book, "There Is Life After College." Also, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center On Education And The Workforce at Georgetown University. From a CBC studio in Toronto, Kristen Hamilton of Koru, that's a company that tries to bridge the skills gap between companies and recent college graduates. And from WFDD in Winston-Salem, we're joined by Andy Chan.

  • 11:07:42

    MS. MELISSA BLOCKHe's vice president for innovation and career development at Wake Forest University. Welcome to all of you.

  • 11:07:48

    MR. JEFFREY SELINGOThanks for me.

  • 11:07:49


  • 11:07:50

    BLOCKAnd Jeff, why don't we start with you about -- talking about your new book, "There Is Life After College." Good to know. Who's your target audience here? Who are you aiming this book at?

  • 11:07:59

    SELINGOReally the target audience is anybody from 16, 17 through their late 20s. The belief has always been that as long as you got into college, you know, most parents, especially at this time of year, since most people are making their admissions decisions right now, as long as you got into college, you would breathe a sigh of relief because if you got out on the other end with a degree, you were golden. And I those days are over. It's much more about how you go to college today, the experiences you have both in and outside the classroom, particularly outside the classroom, really sets the stage for how you launch into your 20s.

  • 11:08:34

    SELINGOAnd the better you launch into your 20s, the better off you're going to be in your 30s and 40s.

  • 11:08:38

    BLOCKTony Carnevale, when Jeff says those days are over, you've been looking a lot at the numbers and what they show about what is facing college graduates, what the prospects are when they leave. What do those numbers show?

  • 11:08:50

    CARNEVALEThey show that there's a new stage in the life cycle, that in the old days, in the 1970s and early '80s, the average American youth, after graduating high school at 18, would achieve the average American wage by age 25. Now, that time period extends from 18 to age 30 for the average American youth and to 32 to 34 for minority students because people need more formal education, work experience. It's a much more complicated transition than it used to be.

  • 11:09:24

    BLOCKAnd why is that? Why is that time period stretched out to achieve that median wage?

  • 11:09:31

    CARNEVALEIn the '70s, 75 percent of American workers had high school or less and they did just fine, especially if they were members of unions, but now we live in a world where 65 percent of the jobs require at least some college and even more important, as Jeff's book points out, there's a huge difference in returns to college by field of study and so that the difference between the lowest earning BA major and the highest earning is almost $5 million.

  • 11:10:01

    BLOCKYou also look at something called the wage premium, in other words, how much more earning wage power you have with a bachelor's degree than you do compared to a high school graduate. What do those numbers look like?

  • 11:10:12

    CARNEVALEThey're pretty astonishing. The wage premium for college over high school has doubled since 1983 and at the same time, we've produced four times as many college graduates. That is a very unusual event in economics when you quadruple the supply and double the value.

  • 11:10:32

    BLOCKJeff Selingo, the notion that you're exploring in this book is how realistic a path it is to think about you go straight from high school, straight to a four-year school, land in a job and then you're an adult. There you are. You've made it. You're saying that's really not realistic, that the template has changed.

  • 11:10:49

    SELINGONo, it's actually kind of unusual, as Tony points out. You know, the average age now of this financial independence for today's college graduates is 30 and there's no reason we should be rushing students through this transition. We seem to think that that's the way you're supposed to move into adulthood and that was the way we did it after World War II when we had a lot of GIs, you know, coming out with college degrees and we had a hugely expanding economy.

  • 11:11:11

    SELINGOBut there's nothing wrong now, I think, with students investing in their human capital throughout their late teens and early 20s. I don't think we should necessarily be rushing students off to college three months after high school graduation because many of them are not ready for it. They're not mature enough to go to college. And that doesn't mean they shouldn't have a post-high school education, but the thing -- and I lay this out in the book -- is we need many more pathways for students after high school in the U.S. beyond the one that we have largely been pushing the last two decades and that's college.

  • 11:11:43

    SELINGOAnd usually when we talk about college, by the way, we also mean a four-year college.

  • 11:11:47

    BLOCKYeah, yeah. Let's focus in a little bit on one of the things that you talk about in your book, which is the notion of a gap year. You don't particularly like the term, gap year.

  • 11:11:54

    SELINGOThe name.

  • 11:11:55

    BLOCKYou have an idea for how to reframe that.

  • 11:11:58

    SELINGORight. And the idea is of this launch year, right? So gap years became popular in Europe, of rich kids, essentially, you know, traveling around with backpacks.

  • 11:12:06

    BLOCKUm-hum, the grand tour.

  • 11:12:07

    SELINGOIn Europe, the grand tour, right? But I think, and we're not seeing this in the U.S., an increasing number of experiences between high school and college and there's a great one up in Baltimore, BridgeEDU, which is started by an author up there, Wes Moore, and the idea behind it is that you're giving kids an academic experience to help them beef up on courses that they may not have done very well in in high school and that means they're not going to do very well in college.

  • 11:12:32

    SELINGOBut more important, you give them mentors and work experience to allow them to explore careers. The fact of the matter is that most people pick careers based on what their parents do or what their neighbors do. You know, a lot of kids at 18 have no idea the number of jobs and careers out there and then they come out in high school, as a senior, I mean, in college as a senior and they start looking at job ads and they're like, nobody ever told me all these jobs existed.

  • 11:12:55

    SELINGOAnd by the way, now it's a little bit too late 'cause you just spent four years preparing for those jobs.

  • 11:12:58

    BLOCKI think there are a lot of listeners who will want to weigh in on this conversation. We will be taking comments and questions throughout the hour. You can call us on 800-433-8850. You can send us an email at drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or on Twitter. The notion of the gap year, one of the things that you stress throughout your book is that this needs to be very targeted, the notion of just traveling, as you say, the grand tour, you want it to be very focused.

  • 11:13:27

    BLOCKAnd the one thing that I kept coming back to is the idea that does it really -- does everything need to be funneling toward a job so early when you're 17, 18 years old? Where is the room for pure exploration?

  • 11:13:41


  • 11:13:42

    BLOCKPure expansion of the mind. Is that really an archaic idea?

  • 11:13:47

    SELINGONo, it's not archaic at all. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that exploration can happen as much as it used to in college for one reason. The cost of college. Because the longer you explore in college, the more it costs you and the more something costs you, especially if you have to take on loans to do that, the more impact that's going to have after college. So I did a survey for the book and one thing that I found is that the more student loan debt that somebody had, the more options that limited for them after college.

  • 11:14:16

    SELINGOIn other words, they weren't able to move to a new city to take a great job because they couldn't afford it or, more importantly, they picked jobs based on only salary, not on professional opportunities and everything else because they had to start paying back their loans. So I agree. I think we need exploration, but we need other avenues for that exploration beyond just the traditional residential four-year campus 'cause it's just too expensive.

  • 11:14:39

    BLOCKTony Carnevale.

  • 11:14:40

    CARNEVALEOne of the things I think that always needs to be made clear in these conversations is that in a democratic society, the mission of college education is to allow people to live fully in their time. That is, in a democracy, the person is the product. What is different, that mission endures, but what is different now is that colleges effectively become a workforce development system so if you can't get a job, if you're living under a bridge, you can't live fully in your time.

  • 11:15:07

    CARNEVALESo this is a new mission for American colleges that they haven't really warmed up to.

  • 11:15:13

    BLOCKLet's turn to Andy Chan at Wake Forest University. Andy, you head up career development, as we say. Do you think the traditional model of career services programs at universities are enough given what we've been talking about with Tony and with Jeff?

  • 11:15:31

    MR. ANDY CHANI don't think the traditional model is enough and I did a TED X Talk back in 2012 just before Jeff's first book came out, which I think was reflective of the times. At the time, we were using a model that was very much like what you've seen over the last several decades. And I think, in this last five years, you've seen a lot of schools around the country really make investments to both improve their career services operations, to include more technology, to start early in the process, to add more resources, to add new leadership.

  • 11:16:02

    MR. ANDY CHANAnd most importantly, actually, I think get the president to be involved in driving change at universities with respect to this topic. So I can't say enough for, you know, what Jeff's book did, his first one did, and I like what he's doing with this one, too. So yes, I think that the old model is not enough and you're seeing a lot of change right now. I'm really happy that there are hundreds of schools who are actually making investments in this area, but at the same time, there are thousands of colleges in the United States so we have a long way to go.

  • 11:16:29

    BLOCKAnd are you saying that it's just not enough or that the focus and the whole approach needs to change?

  • 11:16:36

    CHANI think that this is a sort of systems thinking problem where the culture of a school, everyone who's involved, from the administration to the faculty, the students, the parents, the alumni all have to be part of the solution. It can't be one where you just ask the career office to do all the work themselves. There are too many students. Students have too many unique ideas as to what they want to do and it changes all the time. So it's like the whole system has to be involved in the solution.

  • 11:17:05

    CHANSo I think you are seeing many schools who are taking that approach, but it is one that will take a bit of time. I do really like what Jeff is proposing in his book, which is trying to help the student and the parent have new ways of thinking about how can I take more control over this process. How can I be even more proactive at driving what I want out of it as opposed to just waiting for the school to do it for me and I do think that that's a big part of what the solution is about.

  • 11:17:28

    BLOCKJeff Selingo.

  • 11:17:29

    SELINGOSo, you know, we've had this debate, actually, almost for centuries about the purpose of higher education. Is it for a broad education or is it for training for a job? And this tension is evident on many college campuses today and most faculty believe it's not their job to train somebody for a job. And I just don't know why this has to be an either or argument. It should be a both/and argument. We could get a broad education and help students get a job.

  • 11:17:53

    BLOCKComing up, we'll have more of our conversation on the transition from college to the workforce. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:20:02

    BLOCKWelcome back. I'm Melissa Block sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the transition from college to the workforce. I'm joined by author Jeffrey Selingo, also Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University, Kristen Hamilton of the company Koru, which tries to bridge the skills gap between college and the workforce, and Andy Chan at Wake Forest University. And, Kristen, let me turn to you there in Toronto and talk a bit about the work that your company does, the idea that you had in mind when you created the company trying to help folks make this transition from college to job.

  • 11:20:38

    MS. KRISTEN HAMILTONYeah. Thanks. So at Koru, we work with students and graduates as they've come through the college experience and so we see hundreds of these college graduates. And we really see what's missing when they're challenged with actually trying to enter the world of work. It really is this practical application and experience that seems to be missing when they go to enter the workforce. And so what we do is we try to bridge that gap by developing those skills and giving them that experience.

  • 11:21:10

    MS. KRISTEN HAMILTONBut, for example, I think what sits in the chasm between college and career really boils down to three things. It's that they are missing relevant skills that are specific to jobs. But it's, as Jeff said, it's not just about those hard skills. It's also about a set of experiences and a set of networks. And just even knowing that they need to network, right? Which is...

  • 11:21:34


  • 11:21:34

    HAMILTON...which is just this sort of idea that there's this whole set of other impact skills and soft skills which really tend to be the most important things that they are lacking that helps them to make that transition. And so what we're really done at Koru is we've taken the employer view. We really tried to understand what is it that employers need for our early-career hires? And we try to communicate that to college graduates. We try to help employers select people based on those right things. And then we also try to help those college graduates to really gain those things to land in jobs that they will love.

  • 11:22:10

    BLOCKWell, let's turn to the phones. And I want to take a call that bears on this part of the conversation. This is from Terry in Jacksonville, Fla. Terry, you're on the air. What's your question?

  • 11:22:20

    TERRYOh, hi. I also take the employer's view. I have an executive search background and have been doing career coaching for 20-somethings for probably about eight years.

  • 11:22:32


  • 11:22:32

    TERRYAnd what I see is there are really qualified students coming out of colleges but they don't really know how to go about the job search. So they don't, as Kristen was saying, they don't understand the networking. So I feel, as Andy was saying, the career services are providing great skills for these kids, but they need to maybe access it more...

  • 11:22:57


  • 11:22:57

    TERRY...and get -- the frustration is that the employers aren't finding the students and the students aren't finding the employers.

  • 11:23:03

    BLOCKUh-huh. Uh-huh. Let me pitch this to you, Jeffrey, with Terry's question. Terry, thanks for your call. What is missing there? What's missing from that equation?

  • 11:23:12

    SELINGOWell, what's missing largely for students is that they don't know how to connect what they've learned either in the classroom or on internships that they previously had with the relevant job skills that employers of all kinds are looking for. I have a chapter in the book talking about telling a story, right? Telling your narrative, your career narrative.

  • 11:23:28


  • 11:23:29

    SELINGOYou know, as you get older, you're able to do this. But there's this idea of transfer learning of what you -- happens in the classroom and transferring it to another entity. And many students just have a hard time doing this. And I think this is something that actually colleges can help with. Right? They can help students -- and this is something, I profiled Koru in the book, this is something that the Koru folks helped to do in just a couple of weeks.

  • 11:23:50

    SELINGOAnd, you know, and I think Andy Chan and other colleges are doing this. But the problem is not enough are. Right? They just -- they basically leave it to the student to figure out, okay, I had this internship, I had these classes. I'm going to show up to an interview and I'm going to explain how those things helped me.

  • 11:24:03

    BLOCKMm-hmm. Here's an email that we got from a listener named Dana, who writes, my daughter is currently in seventh grade. She has to pick career modules next year to help her decide what direction her life will take as early as high school. We are pushing our kids to make life decisions at a ridiculous age, Tony Carnevale, pushing this back way earlier than the college years that we're talking about. Doesn't she have a point there?

  • 11:24:26

    CARNEVALEI think it's wise to expose young people to the real world -- that is, school, for a lot of young people, especially high school when they're mature and they really are adults in the physical sense and often in an intellectual sense as well. But we sequester them away from the real world. And in the end, that makes them -- school is a place they go that has nothing to do with real life outside the walls of the school. And especially as you get older, I'd say in high school, that's really inappropriate.

  • 11:24:57

    BLOCKJeff, thoughts on that?

  • 11:24:58

    SELINGOYeah. I mean the thing that I heard most from employers was that today's college graduates have this inability to navigate the ambiguity of jobs.

  • 11:25:06


  • 11:25:06

    SELINGOBecause, for the most part, as the recruiter for Enterprise Rent-A-Car told me, they've been syllabused through their life, right? So they go through college and there's a course catalog that tells them what courses to take every semester. There's a syllabus that tells them when things are due. And there's a cadence to college. And then they get into the workforce and every job today -- non-profits, for profits, it doesn't matter -- it's a mash-up of activities.

  • 11:25:30

    SELINGOAnd, as Tony said, most of them have never had that experience before. Especially, teenagers are not working as much as they used to while they're going to school, especially in middle- and upper-income families. So sometimes the first work experience that some students have might be in college on an internship. And so I think that we need to blend more of the outside world with the inside world. This is not a screed against the liberal arts. I think, you know, again, the liberal arts I think is our great foundation and a necessary foundation for the work world. But we need to have -- stop having this bias against work during education.

  • 11:26:02

    BLOCKBut what about Dana's point that this is just starting too young and that seventh grade, that's crazy.

  • 11:26:07

    SELINGOWell, I think, if you're trying to get a seventh grader to figure out what they want to do with the rest of your life, yes, it is. It's ridiculous. But the idea that you should at least expose people to different careers. I mean, I found a lot of high school students who ended up working in what we would refer to as blue collar jobs in factories on apprenticeships, even though they were college-going material, because somebody exposed them to that work world. So as long as we're exposing kids but not telling they have to pick a career in seventh grade, I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

  • 11:26:35

    BLOCKMm-hmm. Andy Chan, at Wake Forest, what is the most common question you hear from folks who are thinking about entering the workforce? What do you -- what are you hearing mostly from the students there?

  • 11:26:45

    CHANOh, that's a -- it's just interesting. It very much goes to the concept that Jeff put in his first chapter in his book is that you have different types of students. You have -- he calls one a sprinter, a student who says they know exactly what they want and they're going to go for it. Everyone wishes they had a child who's like that. But actually that's very rare. And actually many of those students who say they're sprinters, when you come to get to know them and when they get to know the world, they realize maybe what I thought I wanted is something different.

  • 11:27:12

    CHANAnd then you have these other students who are either wanderers or, Jeff, help me. Who's the other category?

  • 11:27:18


  • 11:27:18

    CHANStragglers, right? So the reality though is that we don't really want to brand our students in any kind of way. But the reality is, is that we do need to help them through that process. So the more structure we can provide -- depending on where they're coming from and we meet them where they are is important. One of the things that was brought up by that first caller, as an example, is, if you actually have career courses where students are in those courses -- we have those at Wake Forest -- what those students who come through is they have more clarity about how to think about it, how to network, that there are people out there to help them, they have all the tools in the toolkit, they are many times more prepared for facing the world of work.

  • 11:27:54

    CHANEspecially, as we know, that students these days are expected to have 20 or more jobs over their lifetime. We know that technology is forecasted to take, over the next two decades, like, 50 percent of the jobs that are out there or 47 percent are actually going to be replaced by technology. With that being the case, it's really important for students to have the competencies to know how to get a job, how to think about it strategically and knowing that the world is going to change on them, that your first job is not your last job. That is an -- sort of both an approach and an attitude that you have to find a way to get into culture.

  • 11:28:24

    CHANAnd so I think that for schools who are doing things like that -- I can think about schools that have co-op programs, like Northeastern, schools where they've really made intentional effort, like St. John's, where, you know, those students are all -- those students at that school in particular are ones where they're coming from very underprivileged backgrounds, but they're really working hard to try to help them get exposed to the world, getting them internships, trying to connect them with mentors who are alumni. That's where you see where the magic is.

  • 11:28:49

    CHANAnd so there are schools who are doing it. But we have to try to encourage every school to be thinking like that too.

  • 11:28:55

    BLOCKLet me turn to a comment that came on our website from Brandon, who writes this. I know I haven't learned enough. I just want a chance to learn on the job. Stop claiming the main problem is the graduates and not the businesses who are unwilling to invest in their workforce, which is a really interesting point. Tony Carnevale.

  • 11:29:12

    CARNEVALEBusinesses do invest. That is, the pace of change in the workplace has been so great since the early 1980s, that businesses now expend about $120 billion a year on formal training. And when you measure informal training, it's another $400 billion. It's almost the size of the higher-education system, remembering that you go to school, in college, for two to five years, you work for 45. Most of the learning you do in your life is on the job. So there is -- but businesses are now demanding, because of upskilling requirements in the entry-level job, that people come in with post-secondary formal training and work experience, which is why it takes so long to get there.

  • 11:29:53

    BLOCKMm-hmm. Jeffrey.

  • 11:29:54

    SELINGOYeah. And I don't want to let employers off the hook here.

  • 11:29:56


  • 11:29:56

    SELINGOI mean, they have pulled back, largely because people don't work for one employer for their entire career. And I think that employers are also confused students, right? So I have an anecdote in the book, the CEO of Procter & Gamble, you know, one of the biggest multinational companies out there, a graduate of Hamilton College in Upstate New York, a big fan of the liberal arts, talks extensively at conferences about how he likes to hire liberal art college -- liberal arts college graduates. And then I meet a recruiter for Procter & Gamble looking to fill a job tomorrow...

  • 11:30:26


  • 11:30:26

    SELINGO...and she's looking for somebody who's going to probably be there only two years, right? And she wants a specific skill set. So even...

  • 11:30:30

    BLOCKSo very different mixed messages in that one institution.

  • 11:30:32

    SELINGOMixed messages within one company, right? So we can't even talk about employers in a monolithic way because even within companies, especially between higher level people and the lower level people who actually hire college graduates, there is a lot of contradictions.

  • 11:30:45

    BLOCKI want to turn to the phones and take a call from Mark in Manchester, N.H. Mark, you're on the air.

  • 11:30:51

    MARKHi. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:30:53


  • 11:30:54

    MARKI just wanted to throw in a plug for the, you know, I mean, clearly there's a problem here with, you know, cost of education. You know, you need to send your son or daughter to college for four years. They don't know what they want to do. It seems like a big financial proposition to do that.

  • 11:31:11


  • 11:31:12

    MARKWhen I was -- would think we should change the model to be more like is, you know, two years of community college where it's -- the education is more occupationally focused. And then, those two years you'd earn an associate's degree.

  • 11:31:30


  • 11:31:31

    MARKAnd then you would move on to get a bachelor's degree at university level, if that's what you wanted to do. In the meantime, your associate's degree could be in a major that could actually help you get a job. I mean, you'd -- maybe welding or something like that. That's my comment basically.

  • 11:31:49

    BLOCKYeah. Well, Jeff, what about that scenario about the community college option?

  • 11:31:53

    SELINGOWell, you know, well you -- this goes back to my idea that we need more pathways out of high school and that includes community colleges. Tony has a lot of statistics on middle-skill jobs, right? These are jobs that don't require a four-year degree but require just a two-year degree, some sort of post-secondary education. I mean, this is a big problem. You know, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, there are many more people in their 20s than in any other age group right now, who have some college credit and no degree. So we have all -- we're sending all of these people to college and they're leaving before they have a degree. And if you look at any employment ad, nobody ever says, some college credit, no degree necessary. Right?

  • 11:32:27


  • 11:32:28

    SELINGOThey want a degree. And so we're going to have this huge generation that's not going to be prepared for the workforce.

  • 11:32:33

    BLOCKTony Carnavale, a community college, I mean, this is something that's become the subject of a lot of conversation around the country.

  • 11:32:38

    CARNEVALEThere are new rules in the game. It's still true that more education on average is better. But the averages are really deceiving. That is, there are a number of certificates that only take a year that you can get at a community college that pay more than the average college degree, 30 percent of two-year degrees pay more than the average college degree and 40 percent of BAs pay more than graduate degrees. So what drives the system now more and more is your field of study. And it's not necessarily true that more college education is better, from an economic point of view.

  • 11:33:12

    BLOCKI'm Melissa Block with NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, you can call 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to drshow@wamu.org. You can also find us on Facebook or send us a tweet to join the conversation about the transition from college to the workforce and the many hurdles that are facing recent graduates. There's an email that came in from John in Pittsburgh that I'd like you to respond to. He asks, I'm wondering what you think is the best way to search for jobs. I assume online job engines wind up with hundreds of applicants for one job, but I don't know what other options I have. Do you have any advice for us recent graduates on this front? Jeff.

  • 11:33:56

    SELINGOSo he's talking about applicant tracking systems now, which basically look for keywords in resumes and applications and throw out anybody who doesn't use those keywords, which is, I think, really kind of a shame for college graduates. But on that front, I think there's actually a technology now that many companies are using that I think could democratize the job search in a way. It's this idea of people analytics.

  • 11:34:15

    SELINGOSo some companies are basically reverse-engineering the careers of their best employees. And they're saying, where did they go to school, what did they major in, things like that. And what they're finding actually is that, in many cases, where they went to school doesn't matter as much as they thought it did.

  • 11:34:29


  • 11:34:29

    SELINGOTheir major doesn't matter as much as they thought it did. The GPA doesn't. There's all of these other activities, primarily outside the classroom, you know, the co-curricular activities you participated in, whether you were elected a team captain, you know -- this is the one front where athletes do very well -- internships, you know, things like that. So Facebook, for example, found that its most successful employees actually interned there. And so they put much more time and effort into their internship program than they did in recruiting full-time employees.

  • 11:34:56

    BLOCKAnd Kristen Hamilton, with Koru, this is something that you think about a lot, about companies and how they hire and what they're looking for. What have you found?

  • 11:35:03

    HAMILTONVery specifically, as a matter of fact -- and Jeff's point is a great one -- the signal to the employer of you went to a certain college, you got a certain GPA, you know, I'll take you and we recruit from poor schools -- is increasingly failing them. And so what we've done is we've listened to employers over the last several years and tried to culminate a list of things that they are really looking for. And actually they're starting to say things like, maybe it's not important if they have a degree or a high GPA, but rather things like do they have the ability to drive an impact in my company. Or are they a good team player? Do they have grit? Will they persevere in ambiguous environment?

  • 11:35:47

    HAMILTONBecause the culmination of those things is how we're helping employers to select people. But I think what it comes down to is the sort of basic human concept that people, they learn by experience. They also learn by failing, right? So in school, you're avoiding failure forever. You're working towards the A grade and you're not getting a chance to flex the muscles around things like, can I drive an impact or, you know, in the innovation economy, oftentimes the whole notion of failing and trying and improving things is actually how work gets done. And it's such a foreign concept to people coming out of school.

  • 11:36:27

    HAMILTONSo employers are really looking for those people who can come in, hit the ground running and can actually use their mind around the situation more specifically to identify how they should be using their time and treasures to drive business impact.

  • 11:36:45

    BLOCKYeah, but from a...

  • 11:36:46

    HAMILTONAnd so that's a very different thing than a GPA.

  • 11:36:48

    BLOCKFrom a practical standpoint, for the job applicant, I mean, how would you be trying to convince an employer, I have grit. What does that -- how do you demonstrate that soft skill that you talk about?

  • 11:36:59

    HAMILTONYeah. So there are very good ways of doing that. And, as was said earlier, there are experiences that people have through college -- sometimes it's not in their academic preparation -- that actually demonstrate these competencies and skills. And the translation of those is what's so challenging for people. However, if you were an athlete or even someone who had to found a club on campus and you ran up against pushback and adversity and you persevered though that, perhaps not just in a way that broke through a brick wall but also maybe just, you continue to persevere when things got challenging or boring. That is a massively important thing to employers.

  • 11:37:36


  • 11:37:36

    HAMILTONAnd you can demonstrate that through experiences you've had in your college experience.

  • 11:37:40

    BLOCKAnd coming up, we'll take more of your calls and questions. Stay with us on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:40:01

    BLOCKWelcome back. I'm Melissa Block with NPR, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the transition from college to the workforce. I'm joined here in the studio by Jeffrey Selingo, author of a new book, "There is Life After College." Also Anthony Carnevale with Georgetown University. In Toronto, Kristen Hamilton, who runs a company called Koru, and in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Andy Chan at Wake Forest University.

  • 11:40:25

    BLOCKWe have been getting a lot of really interesting emails coming in, and I want to steer a few of them your way. Here is the perspective of an employer. Jonathan Tallard emails us to ask this. He says, I'm -- as a member of management for a small, private company in the laboratory sciences industry, I have to say that in many cases, recent college grads do not exhibit the work ethic seen in many older candidates. The main problem we see is excessive use of smartphones and inability to communicate clearly. This will disqualify them for promotions and larger bonuses, hence limiting their ability to excel in the workforce. Jeffrey, you're smiling. Tony, you're laughing. You've hear this before.

  • 11:41:03

    SELINGOOh kids these days, right?

  • 11:41:05


  • 11:41:06

    SELINGOI think every generation has complained about the previous ones.

  • 11:41:07

    BLOCKHas its own version of this?

  • 11:41:07

    SELINGOBut I think this goes back to this idea that college protects students too much. They don't learn, for example -- they fear failure because we never teach them that failure is good, and in fact, you know, grades are rising on most campuses. Grade inflation is rampant today at most campuses. So then they finally get to the workforce, and they start to learn, wow, I have to actually show up, because I didn't have to show up to class.

  • 11:41:31

    SELINGOI had one student in the book tell me that his professor used to cancel classes every time it snowed. So when he got to the workforce, he was surprised that he actually had to show up to work when it snowed, right. So, you know, it's just this expectation that colleges are setting that I think really harms students when they get into the workforce.

  • 11:41:49

    BLOCKTony Carnevale, are we being too tough on students here? I mean, there certainly are plenty of students who have a perfectly viable work ethic and know exactly that they need to show up, whether it's snowing or not.

  • 11:41:58

    CARNEVALEAmerican youth, statistically speaking, are only beaten by Israeli youth in terms of hours worked, the predilection for work early in life, and I must say from my own personal experience that the new world they live in, the electronic, networked world they live in, makes them available for work all the time. And they're responsive to that. I find them rather remarkable in that regard. But yes, they don't get enough experience before they go to work.

  • 11:42:27

    BLOCKHere's another email from a listener, Madeline Drury, (PH) who graduated last May. She asks if we can discuss the gap year after college. Are service programs like AmeriCorps or Teach for America useful? Do employers see value in that work experience?

  • 11:42:43

    CARNEVALEYeah, I mean, there's great experiences. You know, Teach for America, there's now Venture for America, which follows the same exact model as Teach for America, and it puts students in start-ups. Again, all of these are great. The problem is there's not enough of them. And, you know, AmeriCorps has twice as many applicants as there are spots, firm General McChrystal is trying to start, a more national service both before college and after college. But again the problem is we have all of these people coming out of high school, coming out of college, and there's not enough of these programs.

  • 11:43:07

    BLOCKAndy Chan, what do you tell folks there at Wake Forest if they're interested in pursuing those options, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, good idea?

  • 11:43:15

    CHANI think those options, yes, are really good options for students. But at the same time, we have to be careful that they don't just become the default because they're easy. I think that is actually the problem oftentimes with students who think about graduate school, and in particular law school, as the option for what you do after college because you're a good student, you (unintelligible) , and I don't really know if I want to be a lawyer, but I'll go ahead and take on more debt, spend three years and then be sort of funneled into becoming a lawyer, where that obviously is a very difficult job market these days and maybe for a long time.

  • 11:43:50

    CHANSo I do think we do need to do a better job of helping students be strategic about the choices they have to make, which I think goes all the way back to the very beginning, which is what are we as schools doing from the very beginning to help students be very thoughtful about how I'm going to use these four years that are unique to me. So when we think about that, we might think about are we willing to use things like Gallup StrengthsFinder‎ to help students understand what their personal strengths are, or the CareerLeader self-assessment tool that comes out of Harvard Business School that helps students think from a business standpoint how am I uniquely wired to where I fit in the world, or YouScience, the aptitude test that is a start-up online that allows you to understand how am I uniquely wired, and where does that fit.

  • 11:44:31

    CHANIt doesn't necessarily mean here's the exact job you should get but that there is a place for you in the world, and if you understand yourself well, and you can be reflective about that, I think we can do a better job of that in schools. And I think actually that is one of those things, when we say, oh, faculty, that's not their jobs to help you get a job, but faculty do enjoy talking to students about what are you interested in, what are you wired, can I actually connect you with maybe some older students or alumni who are interested in the same types of things so that you can actually find your way. That is actually what I think we need to be thinking about.

  • 11:45:02

    BLOCKLet's go to the phones and take a call from Rachel in Silver Spring, Maryland. Rachel, what's your question?

  • 11:45:08

    RACHELHi, I just wanted to add to the conversation. I really think that thinking that school leads directly to a job seems to me just kind of the problem right in -- of itself. I was a music major, an opera major, and I learned a lot about presentation and how to speak and how to present myself. And when I left school, I knew that I wasn't going to get a job in music right away, but I got a job in fundraising and was able to use those skills.

  • 11:45:38

    RACHELAnd I still have music as a part of my life. Now I teach. So it's kind of two-fold. I think, you know, one, knowing that it wasn't going to lead directly to a job helped me kind of gear my expectations and use the skills that I had. And two, I think I learned a lot of discipline, and you were just talking about grit and failing and coming back and doing it again. And I've heard that medical schools often look at music majors for that reason.

  • 11:46:06

    RACHELAnd I just think that a lot of parents are scared far, far away from the kids studying music, and that makes me really sad.

  • 11:46:14

    BLOCKProbably not just music but a number of other fields, as well. Rachel, thanks for your call. And Kristen, I'd be curious to hear your perspective on this, as somebody who's teaching those or thinking about those soft skills like grit that Rachel mentioned.

  • 11:46:30

    HAMILTONSure. Well, we tell people, whether they're going into a school, coming through or getting out of college, is it's not enough to follow the syllabus. So you really need to get curious. You need to get curious and first I think it's trying to figure out what's your direction, and what are you excited about. Then when you learn those skills is in context of what's exciting to you. So, you know, find a problem out there that you're passionate about, and ask people about it.

  • 11:46:55

    HAMILTONAnd in the process of that, you know, taking on a project, you'll actually gain experience that isn't academic. So what we do at Koru is we actually throw people right into work environments. So we actually give them a problem that is within a company context. You know, some college grads have never been in an office. You know, so it's hard for us to expect them to perform when they've never even been in the arena.

  • 11:47:17

    HAMILTONSo first of all we make it problem-based, and then we set up an environment where they have a limited time, they have high-stakes outcome, they have to actually present to executives at the end of the process, and we have these seven competencies, and grit is one of them, that are working to develop. Another one is polish. I mean, how do you communicate effectively in a business context, which addresses the idea of, you know, not staring at a smartphone that was brought up.

  • 11:47:42

    HAMILTONAnd what we found is when you have a problem that you're needing to address, you have a timeline that is limited, and it's contextual, so you're actually in the environment that you'll find yourself in, that the idea of a syllabus gets chucked out the window, and suddenly you're developing these skills in an inter-connected way, and you sort of can do that in a very rapid fashion because these skills really haven't been focused on previously in school.

  • 11:48:10

    HAMILTONAnd then what we do is we actually explain to graduates, how do you talk about that when you're in an interview. Right? Talk about the time you worked on something, and it didn't work, and you failed, and you struggled, and then you learned something, and you improved, and now they're having a conversation that's a little different than, you know, I had an internship, or, you know, I worked as a lifeguard because you're talking about things in the context of work and the context of the employer.

  • 11:48:33

    BLOCKTony Carnevale?

  • 11:48:35

    CARNEVALEOne of the things that we keep brushing up against here that's very true, and that is that when you think of the economy in the '70s, we know empirically that jobs had very specific tasks and activities attached to them for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here. We now live in a world where jobs require not only knowledge, which schools are not bad at, but they also require skills, which is the ability to use knowledge to solve problems, innovate, et cetera. And interest in value, values, work values, are crucial to success in particular occupations, as is personality. That's where the grit notion comes from.

  • 11:49:13

    CARNEVALESo it is in fact the case that young people today, moving into a 21st-century economy, are being asked to have a much deeper and broader set of skills than those of us who came before.

  • 11:49:27

    BLOCKLet's go back to the phones and take a call from Kenneth in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kenneth, you're a recent college graduate. You graduated three years ago?

  • 11:49:36

    KENNETHYes, I graduated in May of 2013 with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering technology, but you guys talk about how -- you mentioned earlier that employers are taking a chance. They're not. What I found with positions -- it's rare for me to find a position that says it's entry-level, and when I do find one that says it's entry-level, they want you to have three years of experience doing this and five years of experience doing that. How can you label it entry-level if you want someone to have three find and even a year of experience doing X, Y or Z?

  • 11:50:09

    KENNETHAnd like I said, there's very few entry-level positions out there. When I search for a job, I'll find over 100 engineering jobs, but five or 10 percent of them actually say they're entry-level, and of that percentage, maybe one or two actually are truly entry-level, where they're looking for someone without experience.

  • 11:50:26

    BLOCKSo they're looking for more. Yeah, Tony, what would you tell Kenneth?

  • 11:50:30

    CARNEVALEKenneth's dead right. That is, the employers -- only six percent of hires in any given year are for new entrants. Employers, 94 percent of the time, hire somebody with prior experience, which is why this journey, this new phase in the life cycle from 18 to 32, is so long. In part, you need formal education and experience. So the onramp is difficult for young people.

  • 11:50:56

    SELINGOWhich is why many of them need internships before they -- before they graduate from college. I mean, the amazing thing to me, in reporting this book, was, you know, I only graduated from college 21 years ago. I had one internship. And now as I was meeting students in college, starting their freshman year, they were actually checking out recruitment fairs for junior-level internships. And I said why, and they said, well, we want to kind of get a leg up on the competition.

  • 11:51:22

    SELINGOAnd it's kind of a shame. Going back to your caller, who is the musician, as the son of a musician, it is kind of a shame because part of college is, you know, is growing up, is exploration. And again, I think it goes back to this idea that higher education has become very expensive and that parents and students want a more immediate return on that investment, and that immediate return means a job after graduation.

  • 11:51:43

    BLOCKWell, and there's a financial component at play here, too, right? I mean, you may get an internship, maybe it doesn't pay, or if you actually need to make money, maybe you'd be more inclined to take a job, maybe you need to pain houses and make more money. Maybe -- you know, there are ways that may not benefit your ultimate career, but there's a financial motivation for people that can't be overlooked.

  • 11:52:01

    SELINGOThere's a total financial motivation, and in the book I talk about these wanderers and these stragglers. These are people who take most of their 20s to get going. And most of them take jobs, you know, they go work at Starbucks, they're nannies. They take jobs that are total out of their career field that most of the time don't even require a bachelor's degree, because they need to make money to start paying off those student loans.

  • 11:52:19

    SELINGOSo this is why this is a decision -- this is why this book is really also aimed at 18-year-olds and their parents because these are decisions they made four years earlier that are now coming back to haunt them because they ended up taking on too much debt to pay for this education when they -- when in some cases they may have had more options.

  • 11:52:34

    BLOCKAnd would you say that's totally legitimate, take that job at Starbucks, take that job at The Gap? If you need to make money, you need to make money.

  • 11:52:41

    SELINGOOh, there's no doubt about it, you need to make money, but what ends up happening then is, oh, I'm going to take this job for a couple of months, and those couple months turn into a couple of years, and now you're competing with students who get out of college a year or two later, and they have new skills, and so suddenly now you're competing with a whole new group of people.

  • 11:52:55

    SELINGOAnd as Tony well knows, you know, the wage gains you make in your 20s, in some cases you're making the biggest wage gains you're going to have in your entire life in your 20s. Your 20s are really a dress rehearsal for the rest of your life. And so if you give those things up in your 20s, it's going to come back to really hurt you in your 30s and 40s.

  • 11:53:11

    BLOCKI'm Melissa Block. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Tony Carnevale, I feel like we've been hearing a lot of really dispiriting thoughts as we've had this conversation. What is -- what's the silver lining? What can you tell college graduates that should make them feel good about the workforce they're entering into and the path forward?

  • 11:53:32

    CARNEVALEWell, work today is a fairly happy place. That is, remember that virtually all the work, 70 percent of it in the American economy, is indoors with no heavy lifting. That was -- that's very different than what it was in the 1970s. We have stress, but we don't have people being killed by cave-ins in mines like we used to.

  • 11:53:51

    BLOCKWell, we have some but maybe not as many as before.

  • 11:53:51

    CARNEVALEWe have some. But so there is a -- and this is a very robust economy. That is we are -- over the next 10 years, we'll probably create about 10, 20 million new jobs, and 32 million job openings will come as a result of baby boom retirement. So notwithstanding deep recessions, which we just lived through, it's a fairly robust future for college kids.

  • 11:54:15

    BLOCKWe have an email from the associate dean of students at Whitman College, who goes by Noah, who says they have looked closely at data about their class of '09, showing they made 4.7 professional moves in their first five years out of school with their first job for 1.2 years. And Noah asks this. What can we be doing to continue to support them with this highly fluid five-year-out phase? Jeff?

  • 11:54:37

    SELINGOI mean, I think, and Andy and a lot of other forward-thinking career centers, are really thinking about that phase after graduation. I mean, most colleges basically say goodbye to you at graduation, they give you your diploma, and they say, you know, donate to us a couple months later.

  • 11:54:49

    BLOCKYeah, please, where's your checkbook.

  • 11:54:52

    SELINGOAnd there's this new movement by a number of colleges to say we need to really support students through this period of learning and earning, as Tony has dubbed it. And I think we should encourage students, you know, it used to be that students who would job-hop like that were seen -- that was a negative thing. And again, I think the more you job-hop through your 20s, the better off you're going to be at finding that right career and those right jobs.

  • 11:55:14

    BLOCKAnd what about the notion, this is following up on an email from Roy in Rockport, Texas, who is asking if there should be some sort of transparency about employment options for graduates. Career placement rates, he writes, are dismal or of such marginal economic expectancy that the student then realizes the fraud, his word, perpetrated, that universities should have to say here's what happens to our graduates, here's how they do in the workforce. Tony?

  • 11:55:36

    CARNEVALEWell, that check is in the mail. That is, the federal government just dropped $760 million to build information systems that connect every college program to wage records from employers. So we're coming to the point, I think it's a few years out, once we get federal legislation, that if you enroll in a program in a college, you'll be able to find out what happened to all the people who were in that program before you, whether they got a job, how much money they made, whether it justified their loans, and in what industry and occupation.

  • 11:56:09

    CARNEVALESo we're missing -- the higher ed system is basically a $500 billion machine with no operating system. We're about to get the operating system.

  • 11:56:17

    BLOCKAnd Jeffrey Selingo, you think that is a good idea, that will help?

  • 11:56:22

    SELINGOYeah, I think it's a great idea because as we know now, we talk a lot about the averages, right, the average return on investment of a college education, the degree premium, and the fact of the matter is that people don't go to the average, right. They go to individual schools and major in individual programs, and I think the writer, I'm not quite sure if I'd call it a fraud, but most of these post-graduation surveys, with the exception of a few, are terrible, right.

  • 11:56:46

    SELINGOThey survey people six months after graduation, usually once, they ask them if they have a job, not necessarily in their field, and then they never survey them again. I have a hard time finding colleges that claim they have an under-90-percent placement rate after graduation, and again, most of these -- you know, some of these students are probably working in jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree, and also the response rate on some of those surveys is not very good. If you don't have a job, you're less likely to respond to those surveys.

  • 11:57:10

    BLOCKSo that would be some sort of consumer protection that's build in.

  • 11:57:11


  • 11:57:12

    BLOCKIt's been a fascinating conversation. Thanks to all of you for joining us and for our very smart calls and emails. We've been hearing from Jeffrey Selingo, his new book is "There is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow." Also Tony Carnevale with Georgetown University, Kristen Hamilton with the company Koru, and Andy Chan at Wake Forest University. Thanks for listening. I'm Melissa Block, sitting in with -- for Diane Rehm.

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