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In UCLA’s 2012 national survey of college freshmen, 87.9% of respondents named “getting a job” as their top reason for going to college. While the economic climate has increased the pressure on all institutions of higher learning to demonstrate the value of a college degree, liberal arts colleges have been subject to some of the most intense public scrutiny. How might liberal arts colleges work together to address these concerns?
Two colleges, Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) members Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, are exploring this very question. Last year, Rollins and the University of Richmond drew on career programs they already offered and generated blended learning modules designed to develop and hone students’ skills in personal branding, professional networking, and interviewing. This innovative inter-institutional approach to preparing liberal arts students for life beyond graduation leverages the human, intellectual, and technological resources of both institutions. It also represents the first step towards a much larger initiative intended to deliberately and consciously link career and life planning-related resources within an existing network—the sixteen member institutions of the ACS. Currently, institutions within the regional consortium house and operate their own independent career-related service centers. And, while these offices maintain friendly working relationships with one another, there is no formal mechanism for resource-sharing and collaboration. Colleagues at Rollins College and the University of Richmond saw their pre-existing careers courses as a natural starting point for inter-institutional collaboration within the consortium.
Their initial goal was to link the courses—and, by extension, the student groups who populated them—through several blended learning modules on professional networking and interview practices. In doing so, they aimed to provide students with the opportunity to engage in career-related activities with peers at a sister institution, thus modeling and preparing them for the kind of collaborative, inter-institutional work they will be doing in their professional careers. Additionally, the institutions sought to create a way for students to expand their professional contacts with individuals at another ACS institution. They anticipated that building these networks would, in turn, help students further develop and hone their networking etiquette as well as significantly broaden the scope of their job searches. Since most ACS institutions currently do not have careers courses, Rollins and University of Richmond also envisioned their project serving as a portable course template that could be easily appropriated by other institutions.
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