07/31/2012 04:47 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2012

Preparing Students For The Careers Of Tomorrow

According to the Occupational Information Network, the newest emerging high-paying careers are in industries that require education beyond the high school level, such as solar thermal technicians in green energy companies and user experience designers working in the simulation and game design field. Colleges and universities are already responding to the needs of these industries and the skills that they require in multiple ways.

One longtime tradition that has been modified for today's needs is the cultivation of critical thinking, which is essential to opening our minds to new alternatives/options in order to be more effective problem-solvers. Empirical reasoning through math and lab sciences is certainly part of this movement, but there is more that we try to teach in this regard.

Right now, there is an emphasis in college classrooms on impressing ethical decision making among students. Courses have students examine the steps they take in making choices and how they communicate their reasoning to others so they better understand the decision-making process they will need to use in any professional role. Students must realize that any actions they take professionally can have far-reaching consequences on themselves and their businesses if they fail to consider the implications and hold themselves responsible for the results. We want to help them prevent the ethical lapses that can lead and have led to the downfall of several large companies.

Communications is a crucial area where students need guidance for job effectiveness. The need for clarity in speaking and writing in our media-saturated world has never been more apparent than now.

Public speaking courses at colleges and universities equip students to better present themselves for whatever career they pursue after graduation. They walk through the processes of everything from argumentative debates to informational sessions to discover how they can most effectively talk to their co-workers, company leaders and the media. People who master this class have the tools to handle any professional interview or discussion with tact, which naturally allows them better opportunities to win a job or contract, as well as handle any topic under discussion.

For writing, some colleges and universities now require students to take multiple years of English composition taught by a trained professor. While these programs offer courses focusing on various writing styles ranging anywhere from the more creative to nonfiction, the goal is for students to develop an understanding for proper grammar and sentence structure to use in their postgraduate life. Having such skills will provide students with a competitive edge in obtaining a position or a work contract as compared to those without them.

Some courses provided by institutes of higher learning cover the tools students need for their own financial well-being. Debt has been a big problem, even among adults with a college degree, and steps must be taken to prevent it from occurring among the next generation.

To that end, personal financial management classes teach the key facts and processes for overseeing credit cards, rental agreements, mortgages -- everything involved in balancing an income. Students learn the reasons why they need retirement tools, such as a 401(k) plan, as well as how to implement them. This is to help them avoid making mistakes with their money that have harmed many who were unprepared when the economy went into decline and faced cutbacks and bankruptcy.

Along the same lines, many institutes of higher education are teaching students the professional basics they will need to succeed in whatever career path they choose. In such courses, students create portfolios from their internships to share with employers and learn how to write resumes, practice interviewing, and even participate in an etiquette dinner to learn what silverware to employ and what behaviors to avoid. Again, understanding these behaviors will make them stand out against their untrained competitors.

At William Peace University, we have incorporated all of these approaches as part of our general education core curriculum and have seen extremely positive results from our efforts. Our students are required to participate in an internship prior to graduation and more than 60 percent of them receive a job offer based on their experience in these internships. On average, more than 90 percent of the university's graduates are placed in jobs or graduate school within one year of graduation.

Higher education is designed to offer students new fields of study and new settings that foster critical thinking. With today's offerings, students now bring a broad vision of the world to the workplace and insights on how to be respectful with others and self-sufficient. By providing this in their education, we truly will prepare them with whatever they encounter as they pursue the careers of tomorrow.

Dr. Debra M. Townsley is president of William Peace University (formerly Peace College), a private four-year university located in downtown Raleigh, N.C.

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