As tuition has risen and students have assumed larger debts,
a national debate has arisen about the value of postsecondary
education. Jeffrey Selingo brings a new sense of urgency to
conversations on affordability and return-on-investment by
focusing on people.
As Selingo repeatedly reminds his reader, when it comes to
life after college, it’s not so much about where you go but what
you do. Selingo contends that students looking to launch into
independent adulthood soon after earning a bachelor’s degree
should pursue an education heavy on authentic, knowledge-transferring work experiences. Given the advantages to be
garnered through internships, cooperative
learning, and work-focused gap years, students
and parents are encouraged to beyond
graduation. While the question “Where do
you go to school?” has typically been followed
by “What’s your major,” Selingo encourages
us to rethink the conversation —“Why that
school?” and “How do they support your post-commencement plans?” As he argues, going to
the right school, majoring in the right discipline,
or just finishing with a degree hardly matters.
None of these alone is likely to set one on a
path toward meaningful employment and an
Selingo opens with a chapter each on
students and employers, providing a sense of
what each constituency seeks in the other. He
then addresses decisions to be made by future college students,
encouraging careful discernment about matters such as taking
a gap year; evaluating a college’s location; crafting a strategy for
landing meaningful internships; and intentionally propelling
oneself into the adult world, especially if one has skill gaps to
address. Next come a pair of chapters about institutions that
have innovated with an eye toward preparing their students for
life after college. The book’s final two chapters describe how
employers sift through candidates to hire a select few and how
candidates might improve their chances by improving storytelling
skills. Throughout, Selingo deftly draws upon interviews
with relevant stakeholders as framed by an impressive array
of scholarship, all dutifully accounted for in the book’s notes.
Selingo’s writing style is accessible; he moves comfortably among
topics, occasionally addressing the reader directly, especially when
dispensing advice for those in or planning to attend college and
wondering where it’ll all lead.
For those charged with delivering higher education, Selingo’s
work gives reason to re-examine how we do business. Of late,
much attention has been given to improving graduation rates.
Institutions have invested considerable resources
in new first-year experiences, adopting more
intrusive advising practices, and encouraging
faculty to make their teaching praxis ever more
“active” or “engaged” or “civic.” While these
practices often increase the number of students
who make it to graduation, Selingo has us ask:
“Is having earned the degree enough?”
He submits that it’s not. Students must have
work experience, which allows them to apply
their learning, to develop soft skills, and to
manage the ambiguity that envelops authentic
problem-solving. Historically, these skills were
developed during one’s “first real job,” through
which students could pivot from college into
the world of work and independent adulthood.
These days, however, employers are less willing
to assume responsibility for bridging this gap; as such, only those
graduates who present the knowledge, skills, and experiences that
companies require are being offered career-establishing positions.
One might imagine those who fail to heed Selingo’s advice
about choosing a college, a major, and the right internships (at
least three, preferably paid) may find themselves playing catch-up
by spending additional time and money on skill-specific pre-career boot camps or pursuing post-baccalaureate certificates —
and wondering if, in fact, college was worth it.
DAVID J. SILVA (Salem State University) is provost and academic vice president at Salem State University. He is a linguist whose work has been funded by the Fulbright Program, the Korea
Foundation, and the Academy of Korean Studies. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Cornell University.
THERE IS LIFE AFTER COLLEGE
BY JEFFRE Y J. SELINGO
William Morrow, 2016. $25.99. 320 pp.