How much is that degree worth?

Graduates may feel a financial pinch without internships or experience

By Tom Iacuzio
Photo by Charlotte Cudd

For students focused solely on completing the required coursework for their degree, it might be a shock after graduation to find they’re making $10 an hour at Wal-Mart.

More and more, students are finding out that succeeding after college is not just about the piece of paper proving that you graduated. Recent studies are showing what might be more important are the experiences and opportunities available outside of the classroom.

According to a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, employers said undergraduate internships were one of the leading factors in determining whether or not a student is hired.

The study said 62 percent of all new college hires in 2005 had internship experience.
Paul Carpino, director of career services, understands the need for extracurricular activities and internships.

“For the first two years, a student can work and do what they need to do,” Carpino said. “At 60 credit hours, that strategy needs to change.”

Carpino said that with all entry-level recruiters, a bachelor’s degree is a given. But in the end it really isn’t about what you’ve learned, but what you’ve done.

“Employers don’t want to see what you’ve learned,” he said. “They want to see how what you’ve learned has resulted in performance and impact that you have made on an organization.”

“I encourage my students to not only earn their degree, but to also gain professional experience through our business internship program,” Lou Preysz, a professor in business administration, said. “As a former human resource manager and marketing VP, I hired individuals with college degrees and little or no experience versus those with a number of years of professional experience.”

Keeping all this in mind, is going to college even worth it?

According to the book The 300 Best Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree by Laurence Shatkin, there are plenty of high-paying jobs one can obtain simply by apprenticeships or, in most cases, hands-on training, including sales, law enforcement, construction and administration.
And all of these jobs pay more than $50,000 per year — some upwards of $100,000.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor recently released a report stating that eight of the top 10 fastest growing occupations do not require bachelor’s degrees.

The most recent Census Bureau survey can stem concerns, though. According to this survey, adults with a college degree took home an average of $45,678 per year. This compares to the $24,572 average of the high school graduate. That adds up to more than $1 million over a lifetime.

But that said, how does the modern college student put time aside to complete the internships required by many corporations in their field?

Carpino says that the world of higher education has taken notice and change may be on the way.

“The needs of the college student are changing,” he said. “We are leaning towards exchanging internships that last four to six months for shorter — more intensive, challenging experiences.”

He went on to give such examples as design projects, sales calls, business plans and leadership camps. But one thing he pointed out as essential is networking.

“The purpose of these internships is not only results and impact, but the relationships and contacts that you make,” Carpino said. “That is the key.”

Dan Myers, a recent Flagler College graduate still working on St. George Street, reminds students not to lean so much on their college degree.

“I am in the same job I was in while I was in school,” he said. “My degree hasn’t done too much for me, but I’m happy, so it’s all good.”

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