Today’s technology-saturated students are no strangers to software updates. Though a program is still useful, it may require an update to remain competitive and appealing. For example, word processors, which students are certainly familiar with, remain fundamentally the same, though options and layouts have changed over the years. In the same manner, the Albion Advantage is Albion’s College’s update to a traditional education.
With the classic liberal arts education at its core, the Albion Advantage institutes a focus on career readiness. The purpose of the advantage is to make the traditional education attractive to a new era of students and employers. But, as with many updates, it has provoked mixed opinions. Whereas John Woell, the associate provost, said that the Albion Advantage drew him to Albion, another faculty member, who has elected anonymity, said, “I regard the Albion Advantage as an empty marketing scheme that is driving the college into deep decline.”
The Albion Advantage is a work in progress, but it is worth working for. Though the advantage is currently plagued by confusion about what it is and whom it involves, if students are made more aware of the role they must play in the Albion Advantage, and the administration makes it more accessible and appealing, the advantage has potential to become the rewarding update it was intended to be.
What It Is
The Albion Advantage, in its simplest form, is a blending of the traditional liberal arts education with an emphasis on career readiness.
“[Albion students should] have the timelessness of a liberal arts education and the timeliness of career readiness,” said Donna Randall, Albion College president.
But what exactly does career readiness mean? Though the college ensures we all know what a liberal arts education is, the definition of career readiness, which refers to graduate and professional programs as well, is a tad more obscure. Woell believes career readiness is simply practical preparation.
“There are lots of different ways to talk about what career readiness means,” Woell said, “but, more than anything, it’s about providing students with lots of different experiences so that they will be more adaptable and more ready for what’s to come. We’re trying to prepare students for fields that don’t really even exist yet.”
According to the college’s website, career readiness entails a focus on professional development, which is to accompany and build upon students’ liberal arts foundation.
According to President Randall, the various components to this professional development are intended to help students “develop an understanding of what they want to do as their life’s vocation and give them the skills and experiences to help them achieve their goal.”
One such component is the Office of Career Development, an integral element of the Albion Advantage.
“Career Development fosters the plan of the Albion Advantage by implementing the goals it talks about,” said Danielle Yonkin, a career development adviser.
And that implementation now begins the first semester of freshmen year. All first year students are sent to Career Development to take standardized tests designed to help students discover their interests and aptitudes. Once students have a direction, they are presented with opportunities to get connected to their desired fields via faculty members, alumni, internships, and summer jobs.
Lloyd McPartlin, assistant director of admissions, says that getting off campus by means of internship or studying abroad and gaining practical experience is a big part of the program.
“I always tell prospective students that I meet with that the Albion Advantage will help you build your resume while you’re a student,” McPartlin said, “so that when you graduate, it’s going to be difficult for an employer or a graduate school that you’re applying to to say that you don’t have enough experience, because you can look back and say, ‘yeah I do, I have all the stuff I did as an Albion College student.’”
In this spirit, Dale Kennedy, professor of Biology and director of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program, says the Biology department helps students get into medical school or graduate programs by placing an emphasis on practical experience.
“Each year we hold a session for our students on internships and other summer opportunities,” Kennedy said in an email. “In addition, we work with many students on research (through FURSCA and other areas—this semester, we probably have at least 20 students working in our labs or doing field work).”
Another important facet of the Albion Advantage is the support system it offers to graduates. Albion students and alumni have access to the Brit Network, a database where employers can post job or internship openings and students can go in and apply for the ones they’re interested in.
“It puts students directly in contact with employers,” said Dawn J. Hernandez, operations manager of career development.
Albion alumni can also take advantage of the college’s network if they require assistance finding employment or switching careers.
“Even if a student has graduated, if they need assistance landing a job, they can come back to campus, and Albion will help them,” said McPartlin. “I always tell students I meet with that when you graduate were not just going to wave and say ‘thanks for your money, goodbye.’ We’re still going to be there to help. You’re not an Albion student for four years; you’re an Albion student for life.”
Where It Came From
The idea for the Albion Advantage has some roots in Albion’s institutes. President Randall, one of the architects of today’s Albion Advantage, says that the advantage was inspired in part by the success of the profession-focused institutes like Ford and Gerstacker, though she says “the Albion Advantage goes significantly beyond what the institutes currently offer.” Her goal was to not only extend the benefits offered by the institutes to all Albion students, but to make that a part of Albion’s appeal to prospective students.
“[President Randall] saw that we had maybe a more forward way of thinking and she wanted to showcase that in a way that helps prospective students and families understand what we do here and why it’s a little different than traditional liberal arts colleges and large research universities,” said Kristen Padilla, an admissions counselor.
Though she agrees that the Albion Advantage is not an exact duplication of the institutes in the way they approach career readiness, Emily Nolan, the director of the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, says that the advantage certainly aligns with Gerstacker’s objective of practical preparation.
Nolan believes that the goals of the institutes and the college’s overreaching goal are the same: ensuring that all Albion students have the opportunities to prepare for any career they wish to pursue.
“If a student takes advantage of the Albion Advantage, they will give themselves an edge over all young graduates entering into the workforce,” Nolan stated.
Nolan also says that the Albion Advantage will in no way negatively affect the institutes’ success or appeal.
“The Institutes are aligned with the goals and vision of the Albion Advantage,” Nolan said in an email, “so I can’t see it doing anything to the Institutes. The Albion Advantage should enhance the attraction to prospective students, which makes us all stronger.”
Increasing Albion’s appeal is certainly a component to the Albion Advantage. According to President Randall, the Albion Advantage is one of the college’s methods for remaining competitive in an increasingly dynamic realm of higher education.
“We have to be distinctive,” Randall said. “We have to differentiate ourselves. We have to add more value than we have in the past. Change is essential. I want to put Albion College on the map. I want us to be a leader in combining liberal arts education and career readiness. We want to be first, we want to be better.”
Susan Sykes, president of SS Advisor, an independent firm of educational consultants based in Minneapolis who help high school students find and get into colleges, says Albion might not be as unique as Randall or Woell may hope. However, Sykes says the Albion Advantage is certainly a step in the right direction, especially from parents’ point of view.
“While the approach may not be revolutionary, it certainly is in the forefront of marketing,” Sykes said. “As liberal arts students are perceived to have greater difficulty gaining employment, a commitment by a college to build career-seeking skills among undergraduates is to be complimented.”
Sara Lipka, a senior editor for The Chronicle of Higher Education, said in an email that Albion is indeed conforming to a trend among liberal arts institutions.
“In a bad economy, with much public discussion of the value of a higher education, many colleges have developed and promoted career-prep programs,” Lipka said. “And of course they promote those programs in marketing and student recruitment.”
According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, one such college taking measures similar to Albion is Roger Williams University.
“The university offers professional and liberal-arts programs, and it wants students to take advantage of both,” The Chronicle reports. “Those who choose liberal-arts majors will be encouraged, but not required, to add a professional minor—and vice versa.”
Though the Albion Advantage may not be entirely pioneering, a college model that combines the benefits of professional development and the study of the liberal arts seems to be quite valuable, especially in such an unpredictable economic climate.
With an understanding of the Albion Advantage established, next we will examine who the Albion Advantage involves and analyze its effectiveness.