How Colleges Must Adapt to the Evolving National Landscape

Minority students require a fast and flexible, career-focused education in today's climate

By Jason Barquero
Published on LatinoLA: October 21, 2008

How Colleges Must Adapt to the Evolving National Landscape

The rising cost of a college education has prompted a growing number of students and their parents to ask, "What am I getting in return for my hard-earned tuition dollars?" No longer is it just about the academia; now more than ever, it's about the career that education will bring.

We take great pride in DeVry University being a pioneer in career-based education and this approach is resonating with minorities and non-traditional students. More than half of our undergraduate students are non-white and our non-traditional student body is represented by an average age of 28 for undergraduate students and 34 for graduate students.

How to Serve a New Generation of Students

In order to successfully serve this new kind of student body, a university must become familiar with a changing audience. By 2050, minorities will be the majority in America, according to projections released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Hispanic population in particular is projected to nearly triple, from 46.7 million to 132.8 million, from 2008 through 2050.

A key consideration to keep in mind about how to adapt to today's students today is to understand their distinct lifestyles. More often they work part-time or full-time or have families to support. Therefore, these students require flexible options such as being able to take courses online, following an accelerated or "fast track" degree program so they can graduate in less than the traditional four-to-five years, or have classes offered in the evenings or weekends. The availability to take courses from multiple venues is also beneficial so commute times are decreased or so individuals do not have to move to be closer to campus.

Also, offering a career-focused education is becoming more attractive to students today. Our degree programs are those tied directly to an in-demand career, such as accounting, computer engineering and information technology. A key attribute is that these professions often offer attractive salaries.

To provide a career-focused education, it is important to keep up with industry needs and cutting-edge curriculums. Therefore, institutions should have close relationships with employers and keep up with what skills they want in new hires. Our staff listens very carefully to employers' feedback and we update our curriculum as often as needed to ensure our students acquire current knowledge and applicable skills. For example, we recently launched a bachelor's degree program in Game & Simulation Programming, one of the fastest-growing new careers. As a result, students come out of our programs more marketable and career-ready.

Placing an emphasis on improving learning by incorporating theory plus application is another attribute students find appealing. In short, students learn by doing. Many of our classes include required hours in labs and we offer participation in activities such as our Senior Tech Days, where students create new inventions and compete. In addition, the practitioner-oriented curriculum ensures all classes, even English and history, are applicable to the student's field of study.

Career Preparation

Lastly, institutions should take more responsibility assisting students with entering the workforce. The biggest key to our success is a dedicated Career Services program that connects graduates with employers ranging from Fortune 500 companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing to research institutions like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to local leading businesses and start-ups. Throughout their study, career counselors meet frequently with students, polishing resumes, assisting with interview preparation and more. Our staff is constantly working with employers to provide job opportunity leads to students and we offer this service to our students over their entire lifetime, not just upon graduation. As a result, since 1975, 90 percent of DeVry grads in the active job market have been employed in their field of study within six months after graduation. During this time DeVry has graduated more than 230,000 students.

We are pleased to have consistently ranked among the top institutions granting degrees to African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic students with many representing the first generation in their family to attend college. In serving these populations and others, we believe that as student profiles and needs change so must academic institutions. However, to continue to generate skilled professionals and the best that the world has to offer in areas such as business and technology, U.S. colleges should take note that a career-focused education will continue to resonate among minority and non-traditional students today and tomorrow.

About Jason Barquero:
Jason Barquero is Associate Director of Career Services, DeVry
Author's website

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