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Where Colleges Fail Students

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When I was in college, I took a stand against the motorcycle helmet law. Not by participating in a protest, mind you. This was the University of Nebraska -- not the University of California, Berkeley. I just explained my rationale in an essay for a freshman writing class.

I don't think I saved it. But I'm pretty sure the gist of it was the futility of trying to legislate against stupid.

If someone isn't responsible enough to wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle, so what? Years later it would occur to me, "Skyrocketing insurance rates, that's what."

I still bristled, though, when I heard the former mayor of New York tried to make jumbo sodas illegal. "Ever heard of refills?" I wanted to ask. "Of buying two at once?" I mean, come on.

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So when Don Philabaum joined us on the talk show recently and maintained it's the job of administrators and parents to get college kids to visit their campus career centers. I bristled again. Don works with career centers across the country to help them prepare students for the job hunt.

"If students don't have the gumption to learn what it takes to get a good job, maybe they don't deserve one," I told Don. "Isn't that natural selection?"

He was eager to answer.

The studies by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that students who go to the career center -- who are engaged in the career center -- not only get internships but get jobs sooner, and get jobs at higher pay. So if the college culture was built around getting students to the career center and putting more focus on careers, then the average grad wouldn't take eight months to find a job.

He wasn't finished.

"Hang on that number," he suggested.

The average grad takes eight months to get a job. If a graduate is going to earn $3000 a month, multiply that times eight. Which means the average grad is losing $24,000 in salary. Multiply $24,000 times 1,700,000 graduates and you get $50 billion in lost wages because grads don't know how to look for a job.

That wasn't all.

"But eventually they get a job, right?" Don said.

Unfortunately, they get a job which is probably not at the level their college degree prepared them for. So the thing that causes me such pain is that there are lives being ruined in this generation because the college culture is not built around it. And I think the college owes a soon-to-be graduate that response -- that kind of training and that direction -- because the graduates today are spending so much of their wealth and their future and giving it to that college.

If the people running colleges don't agree, I wondered, won't they be out of a job? Eventually?

What do you think?

I think Don did a great job of justifying his.