How local colleges and universities are pre paring tomorrow’s business leaders
Preparing students for the “real world” has always been the main objective of colleges and universities. But in this post-Recession era where so many young college graduates are still struggling to find employment (Millennials account for half of the total 10.9 million unemployed Americans) it’s more important than ever. In South Jersey, our colleges and universities are paying more attention to preparing their graduates for the job market as well as finding ways to connect the business community to their efforts.
Burlington County College
The founding chairman of Burlington County College (BCC) once said that the “world of the future belongs to the well-educated” and those words have been inspiration for preparing future community business leaders.
“BCC has an excellent tradition of preparing students for the job market and evolving its programs to meet the current and future needs of employers,” says the college’s President Paul Drayton Jr. “Our corporate training works closely with local employers to provide training programs that meet their specific needs.”
As an additional means of training and preparation, BCC will soon be opening a new Workforce Development Center in its Mount Holly Center as part of a collaboration led by the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders among the college, Burlington County Institute of Technology, and the county’s Workforce Investment Board.
“This center will connect job seekers and employers and serve as the central point of access for all workforce development services and programs in the county,” says Drayton. “The Workforce Development Initiative is streamlining all of these programs as well as aligning curriculum paths from high school through college through career.”
Camden County College
Birthed out of collaboration with Rutgers University, a high school health program offers the opportunity for students to do an apprenticeship while completing their high school diploma. They then move into a Certified Medical Assistant program that prepares students to pass the Registered Medical Assistant exam. If students complete the program they earn 28 college credits. It’s another “rung in the ladder,” says Anne McGinley, Dean of the Division of Nursing, Health Sciences and Human Services, that gets students closer to a health/science associate’s degree or simply makes them more employable.
And that’s what Camden County College is all about—making students more employable.
“We offer externships in various clinical experiences so that students can get real world experience while they’re still here,” McGinley says. “Because they’ve already been exposed to these skills and experiences, they tend to get jobs in the community more easily.”
McGinley says that with Inspira, Virtua, Cooper, and other regional health institutions continuing to grow their roots in South Jersey, the job opportunities in health care are only going to continue to grow. Students need to be prepared with real world experiences and skills in order to compete.
Rowan College at Gloucester County
Preparing students for their next step had always been the mission of Gloucester County College and with the creation of Rowan College at Gloucester County, that mission has only strengthened. Recently, the college announced an exciting new online business administration program that allows students to earn an associate degree in two years.
“This is the first all-online program in our history,” says Patricia Claghorn, Dean of Business Studies. “While we already offered online courses, finishing a degree by taking 15-week classes simply wasn’t practical. With seven-week class schedules, this program is structured to allow students to succeed in completing their degree in two years.”
Claghorn notes that online doesn’t mean it’s easier and it still may not be the best path for every student, but by offering this program, the college opens up a world of opportunity to those who might have previously found it difficult to pursue a business degree the traditional classroom route. She acknowledges that this is a big deal since research shows higher education is valued in the new marketplace.
“Things have turned around since the recession and research tells us there are going to be 55 million job openings in the economy—not only from retirement but also from brand new opportunities,” says Claghorn. “We also know that 65 percent of those jobs will require at least an associate degree. A degree is going to be the access card for the middle class.”
Rowan University is at an exciting point in the school’s history. They were recently designated as a research institution and have been ranked among the best public universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report. The university also recently decided it was an opportune time to initiate a $5-million Rowan Innovation Venture Fund as a meaningful way to invest. The fund is the first undertaking of this magnitude for Rowan and among its goals includes accelerating the growth of Rowan’s research initiatives by investing in university-generated technologies, intellectual property, inventions, and business. It will also help foster initiatives of South Jersey residents and businesses by providing investment for early-stage businesses, research initiatives, and technologies.
“Similar to [the television show] Shark Tank, applicants can apply online to be screened, then be invited to come in for a live pitch,” explains R.J. Tallarida, chief advancement officer and head of the Rowan Foundation. “This could help a new business get the jumpstart they need in funding to bring their technology to the next level; or it may help existing businesses bridge the gap with funding they need to get from A to B. Either way, we feel good about investing in our own people here in South Jersey.”
Tallarida says this effort is just one of many ways the university is looking to connect with local businesses. Bringing business leaders into the classroom—from major publically traded corporations down to smaller mom and pop shops—has also been effective.
“We want our students better prepared for the workforce and doing that means connecting them to people who are already out there so they can ask questions and find out what it takes,” Tallarida adds. “In a nutshell, our goal is to close the gap of what’s taught in the classroom and what’s needed in the real world.”
Preparation for the endgame (graduate school or a career) starts the moment students step on campus at Rutgers-Camden, says Kriste Lindenmeyer, Ph.D., Dean of the Rutgers University-Camden Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Our programs are designed to help students think about who they are and where they want to go because we realize they don’t have it all figured out when they first get here.”
Among those programs, the Leadership Institute is one that helps students answer the questions about where they’re headed. The program brings in outside speakers and connects current students to alumni who can talk about their careers and what it’s taken to be successful.
Experiential or “hands-on learning” is also critical to the university’s mission, adds Lindenmeyer. “Whatever your major, we believe hands-on learning is incredibly important,” she says. “Each year we have an undergraduate research fair to get students working one-on-one with faculty and find out what kinds of opportunities are out there.”
The university is also preparing students through their new Digital Studies Center, opened last spring. This interdisciplinary center provides training for both students and faculty and even offers a certificate that students in any major can take to become truly digitally literate.
“This may be a generation that grew up with technology, but they still need training on the best ways to use that technology in business, research, and other career opportunities,” Lindenmeyer says. “We recognize that our students are here for very practical reasons. They’re here to prepare themselves for their futures and we’re always looking at new ways to do that.”
Janet M. Wagner, Ph.D, Dean of the School of Business, says that getting a job isn’t the only post-university goal of Stockton students—it’s keeping that job. She personally feels that a liberal arts education is a huge factor in holding a job for the long haul. That’s because today’s employers want a well-rounded individual.
“We’ve heard that employers are looking for people that can write, think critically, and communicate well,” Wagner says.
Though the Recession didn’t make the job market easier, Stockton has responded by ramping up their emphasis on internships. Wagner is also seeing more students choose to stay in school rather than go right into the job market so they’re finding ways to support that decision, including a program that allows students to move directly into pursuing an MBA.
“We also value having the right set of offerings to connect students to the businesses around us,” Wagner adds. “Hospitality was added because of where we are in South Jersey, as was a concentration in financial planning that will prepare students to sit for the Certified Financial Planner designation. Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) are needed here in South Jersey as there are many people that move here or have a Shore home here and need their funds managed. We’re committed to keeping up with and producing students that meet the business needs right here in our region.”
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 5, Issue 3 (March, 2015).
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