The Real Danger in the College Enrollment Downturn

I was having a discussion with a client about some career services challenges when the conversation turned to projections for the 2014 cohort. “One important thing to remember” I said, “is that new enrollments are down, so many of the graduate employment issues we are discussing today are going to self-solve in the near future.”

We know that one of the challenges Institutions of Higher-Learning faced over the past three to four years is the downturn in the job market was exasperated by the fact that college enrollments were up.  Fewer jobs, with more people entering the job market, spelled tough times for schools that actually care about helping students find jobs upon graduation.

Well, here we are in July 2013 and the job market is improving (especially for entry level career specific jobs) and graduate populations are decreasing.  It stands to reason that we will return to our glory days of a lack of supply (of grads needing jobs) and high demand (of employers needing quality help).  We have a bit of a “safety net”; we don’t have to work as diligently to find decent jobs for our grads.  This is great for our grads, but what does it mean for us?

I submit to you that we have to be more vigilant than ever in our pursuit of high employment outcomes.  Complacency is a real danger now, and we should use this time to manage some of our employer sites “out” of our pool and focus on finding employers who will consistently hire our grads and not use them for cheap help or free labor in the case of internships and externships.  To that point, we should use this time to drive up the hourly rate for these positions.  Think you can’t do that?  Oh yes you can!

More importantly, we should learn from our past mistakes and take this time to get our Career Services Advisors into the classroom early and often, to shape and improve the soft-skills of our students while we have a captive audience.  We should use this time to educate our faculty and staff on the importance of reinforcing learning outcomes in the classroom by applying them to the real world application of those skills.  We should use this time to increase, not decrease our resources in Career Services as a whole.

Andy Grove said,  “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”  I submit to you, now is not the time to relax.