There is no denying that times are tough for recent college graduates. With many terminal degree holders out of work, or working in positions typically populated by bachelors recipients, undergraduates are entering a tumultuous job market to say the least. It was and continues to be difficult to help students navigate the waters of the recession climate, but who’s responsible for doing the navigating?
By now you have probably heard about Trina Thompson, the May 2009 graduate of Monroe College who is suing her office of career services because she has been unable to find a job in her first three months as a bachelors degree recipient. Thompson claims that the career professionals at her alma mater haven’t done enough to help ensure her post-graduation employment, and that the focus of their efforts is unfairly placed on students with 4.0 GPAs. For these offenses, she is suing Monroe to the tune of $72,000, the cost of her college tuition.
Many things are troubling about this situation. Are career counselors at fault when the students they advise are unable to find employment? Where would a student like Thompson get the impression that she is not inherently responsible for her own career future, but that it is her college’s job to find her a job? One has to wonder where Thompson received the message of guaranteed employment within a few months of graduation, and further, whether her lawsuit will inspire other frustrated, unemployed graduates to follow in her footsteps.
As a career advisor at Michigan State, I do everything I can to assist students in the career search, but the student is always in the drivers seat. This means never promising students jobs, internships, or admission into graduate schools as a result of using our services. That, in my opinion, is not my responsibility. Career advising should provide students with tangible tools for crafting their own success, and certainly, career advising offices should work to build relationships with employers, graduate schools, and other agencies for the benefit of the students they serve. Above all, my work in career services has led me to believe that its essential function is to empower students to seek and achieve their post-graduation career aims.
So is Thompson at fault for her lack of employment, or her college? There are lots of arguments on both sides, but I’d like to take the middle ground. The alumna may be taking her unemployment angst too far, but she had to get the message of guaranteed jobs from somewhere. Students need to be realistic about the outcomes and associated expectations of receiving their degrees, but colleges have to be wary of what is promised along the way.