In this article’s previous installment, we studied the purpose and the origin of the Albion Advantage, an update to Albion’s liberal arts paradigm that is meant to add an emphasis on career readiness without sacrificing the value of a traditional Albion education. However, as with any update, the Albion Advantage is surrounded by questions and concerns. This installment of the article seeks to explain who the advantage involves and if it works.
Who Is Involved?
Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of the Albion Advantage is that it requires input from everyone on campus. This is an update that requires effort.
“It takes the faculty and everyone on campus to get the students everything they need. Everyone is involved, not just Career Development,” said Danielle Yonkin, a career development counselor.
Part of the advantage is an emphasis on career preparation in the classroom in some form. Though he says that the content of classes should not change, John Woell, associate provost, believes that all classes need to help students prepare for the job market.
“If we’re serious about this, then all the courses that we teach should add some value to the students, whether it’s direct or indirect, towards their readiness for a career,” Woell said.
For many professors, incorporating elements of career readiness into their classroom has always been essential.
Dale Kennedy, professor of Biology, says that the Biology department is always preparing students for the next step in their academic or professional career. Not only do the faculty use the classroom to ready students for important exams like the MCAT, DAT and the GRE, but they also push students to prepare themselves outside of the classroom.
“We work with our advisees and other students to make sure they take appropriate courses to help them get into those schools,” Kennedy said in an email.
Bojan Ilievski, visiting assistant professor of economics, says career readiness is “nonstop” in his classroom. “It’s the way I set up my lectures, my class and even my exams,” Ilievski said. “The ultimate objective is for students to get the skills necessary to be dedicated and to handle unexpected outcomes, so that once they finish my class they are a little more prepared.”
Though these examples are not a direct result of the Albion Advantage, they certainly reflect what the Albion Advantage is trying to establish for all Albion students. But as much of an opportunity the Albion Advantage can offer students, it will remain only an opportunity unless acted upon.
Donna Randall, college president, acknowledges that students are often more concerned with immediate things in college, such as writing papers, than they are about their future careers, thus the obligatory aspects of the Albion Advantage. But the mandated exercises can only extend so far; students must take an initiative in securing for themselves their Albion Advantage.
“The students that will really benefit from this are those that will actively seek faculty and staff and talk about careers,” said President Randall. “If you want to major in an area, but don’t know what jobs are in that area, we can help find those answers for you. But students have to ask. We can only do so much.”
In many ways, the success of the advantage is dependent upon student involvement. “As long as students are utilizing the services, I think it will work for them,” said Dawn Hernandez, operations manager of Career Development.
The problem with this part of the program is that students must first be aware of the Albion Advantage before they can act on it, and, for many students, the advantage is an unfamiliar concept.
“I’m not sure what the Albion Advantage is,” said Paul Stewart, a Bloomfield Hills freshman. His voice represents that of many Albion students.
Other students, like Alex High, a Bridgman sophomore, are aware of the Albion Advantage, but have yet to experience it. “The Albion advantage is the program that will help us find jobs after graduation or will provide a job for us if we cannot find one,” High said. “I believe it has a great potential to work, but I have no personal experience with it and don’t know much about it.”
The few students that have recognized the opportunity of the Albion Advantage and, for lack of a better term, taken advantage of the program have found it to be quite helpful upon entering the job market.
Rebecca Satawa, a 2012 Albion alumna, was well aware of the Albion Advantage due to her on-campus job with Career Development. Wanting to ensure employment after graduating, she says she saw something valuable in the Albion Advantage and spent much of her free time talking with Career Development counselors about job hunting and getting her name out to prospective employers. Career Development put her in contact with the Albion alumnus with whom Rebecca interned over the summer, and now she is a project coordinator for ePrize, a Michigan-based company that creates promotional campaigns.
“I wouldn’t have even known about this company if it weren’t for the Albion Advantage,” Satawa said in an email, “and I definitely wouldn’t have known the steps that I needed to take in order for me to be successful after graduation. The Albion Advantage is something that I wish more Albion students would take advantage of.”
So if, as Satawa says, the program is something worth pursuing, why are more students not doing so? Bridget Ruff, St. Clair junior, sums up the problem perfectly.
“I think the idea of it is great, and it helps some people, but it has imperfections,” Ruff said. “People need to know exactly what it entails.”
Ruff is right. The Albion Advantage, though still in its infancy, is certainly an opportunity not to be shirked, but the college needs to do more to make that advantage both easier for students to work with and more appealing, the latter requiring evidence of the advantage’s effectiveness.
Does it work?
After all this analysis, one very important question remains: does it work? There is little quantitative data to testify directly to the Albion Advantage’s success.
While no data testifies specifically to the Albion Advantage’s success, President Randall said that data from the National Survey of Student Engagement shows that Albion students “are more engaged, and that they’re getting more career support.” Her belief in the Advantage is also based in part on the willingness of students and parents to pay more tuition in recent years. “We take that as a sign that the value of an Albion education has increased, because they’re willing to pay more to come here,” she said.
Agreeing, John Woell cites the falling discount rate along with the success of graduates as evidence that the Albion Advantage is worth paying for, though he states that the Albion Advantage is not a means of raising tuition.
“We’ve seen in the last couple of years a greater willingness on the part of students to invest,” Woell said. “Our discount rate for incoming students is dropping, which indicates that students and their parents are willing to pay more for the sorts of things we’re doing than they were in the past.”
Both recognize that a willingness to pay more is not conclusive proof of the Albion Advantage’s effectiveness. Though President Randall offers anecdotal evidence of parents saying they like the idea of the Albion Advantage, she admits that any number of variables, such as sports, could be attracting students to Albion despite the rising cost.
Woell adds that only 6 percent of last year’s graduating class found themselves unemployed or not continuing their education within six months after graduation. But, again, this evidence does not directly support the Albion Advantage.
“I think they’re early indicators that what we have is attractive to people,” Woell said, “but we have a lot more to do.”
Aware that the program is not yet fully realized, President Randall says that the administration is resolved to continue working on the advantage: “We are just launching into the Albion Advantage—this is just the beginning.” She says that the college is moving the Office of Career Development into the Stockwell Library, where it will be expanded and improved upon (see sidebar). The college also recently hired a new career development director, Troy Kase. “We have a new director here and great things taking place,” Randall said.
But not everyone agrees with Randall. The anonymous professor who called the advantage an empty marketing scheme says, “The Albion Advantage has failed to make the college stronger. We are in a state of decline. Things aren’t getting better, and that concerns me.”
While this professor is not alone in his indictment, the advantage does seem to have done good for some. Satawa, who perhaps saw the possibilities of the Albion Advantage more than any other student due to her work with Career Development, maintains that even now the Albion Advantage is a useful opportunity that students would be wise to invest in.
“I can safely say that I wouldn’t be where I am at today without the Albion Advantage,” Satawa said.
The Albion Advantage is really nothing new to Albion College; it encapsulates, in short, all the advantages of a small, liberal arts college education. Much of it is only the institutionalization and labeling of what Albion College has always tried to achieve for its students: meaningful employment with a strong education founded on the critical thinking and writing skills of a liberal arts education. But, like an update to already-functioning software, the Albion Advantage emphasizes and seeks to improve upon those features that will best help students in this economically challenging time.
But in order for the Albion Advantage to be a true advantage to the college and its students, everyone on campus needs to do their part to help it along. Administrators need to make the advantage more prominent on campus and perhaps in the curriculum, and students need to actively seek out the many facets of the advantage in order to truly benefit from what this exciting program has to offer.
One way to start is to visit the Office of Career Development or examine their offerings online. Students should also seek out their academic advisors and professors in their desired fields of study to ask about job opportunities and methods to achieve success.
The Albion Advantage can certainly be a valuable update; administrators just need to continue debugging it, and students just have to take the time to download it.
A New Career Development Center
As part of the second phase to the college’s redesign of the Stockwell Library, the Office of Career Development will be moved to Stockwell’s soon-to-be renovated lower level, the John S. Ludington Career and Internship Center.
According to an article in Io Triumphe, the Ludington Career and Internship Center will add “technologically enhanced interview rooms, a workshop/presentation room and a professional space for recruiters and graduate school representatives” to the already-provided four-year support students can receive.
President Randall believes that moving the Office of Career development into the library will help make the benefits of the Albion Advantage more accessible to all students.
“I call the Stockwell library the intellectual hub of campus,” President Randall said. “We are going to convert the bottom floor into this career center to ensure that all students across campus have access to it. When we do tours for prospective students, it will be one of the first stops on the tour because it’s so fundamental to the education you’re going to get at Albion. I want all prospective students to come here, see the center and know that we will be there to support them.”