Do You Know Where Your Alumni Are?

Photo taken by Kate Kiscock at Flickr.com

 

Higher education is changing at a rapid pace and most institutions are working hard to keep up with the changing dynamics of our world. This may surprise you, but one aspect of education that is gaining a lot of traction is the question, “Where are your graduates?”

To be fair, at least in the fundraising aspect of higher education, finding your alumni isn’t anything new. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. The pressure on schools is to not only find their alumni, but find out how they are using their degrees.

The reason this has become such a hot topic issue is because more and more administrators are realizing that their alumni might not be using their degrees the way they were intended. This is especially the case for doctoral students. Let me explain a little further.

For quite some time now, when a student went to a school for a graduate degree (specifically, a doctorate) they were only really being trained and prepared for an academic career. Nevertheless, especially within the last few decades, it has become a stark reality that despite talent and training, most graduate students just will not get a tenure-track faculty position.

Ever.

This leaves both the schools and the students in a precarious position.

Schools have known about this problem for some time, but what exactly are they supposed to do? The most promising solution seems to be to restructure graduate degrees into being more malleable. What does that mean? It means that even thought the school still believes in the student and giving them the skills and training that comes from a PhD (especially in teaching), they also prepare and introduce their students to other careers that value the skills developed in graduate school. For example, working for non-for-profits, government jobs, researching, NGOs, management, etc.

How do they know what these jobs are? Their alumni!

The reality of the situation is that although all students would ideally want to teach and publish on their topic, that just isn’t an option for everyone any more. Nevertheless,  students are learning intense research skills, how to write grants, compilation and delivery of presentations, management skills (for example by TA-ing a class), and so on.

Although many students who cannot seem to find a teaching job have a tendency of feeling despondent and hopeless about a life’s worth of training and skills, there is just no reason to feel this way anymore. Graduate students have incredibly marketable skills. They just don’t know it yet.

The main questions, of course, is how long it will take for schools to start to restructure and prepare their students for the options that they actually have in front of them. A malleable degree really seems to be the future for the happiness of both the students and the institutions.

What do you think about restructuring graduate programs to include non-academic job paths? Do you think a malleable degree is a good idea or the wrong direction?