Worth the trouble? Survey finds college alums satisfied

By Ashley Berger

Despite troubling economic times, a recent survey conducted by the American Council of Education (ACE) found college alumni are, all variables considered, satisfied with their college experience and believe the amount of time and money they put into their degree was worthwhile.

400 students from 22 two and four-year colleges and universities were surveyed and, of the randomly selected students, 89 percent said the time and money required to achieve a degree was worth it.

Respondents were broken up into two groups based on age; one group consisted of 35 to 39-year-olds, the other more recent graduates running from 25 to 34-year-olds. The survey however, had its flaws as it failed to ask the respondents’ majors.

The study found that, on a national level, 62 percent of alumni thought that, in general, colleges were preparing students well for the workforce. 31 percent of alumni, a plurality, believed the most important role of colleges and universities was to teach students to learn and think critically, while 28 percent believed the role was to prepare student for employment.

Despite the increasing cost of attending college, 76 percent of the surveyed alumni thought the price of their institution was fair.

“Students should prepare in advance for their entrance into the job market after graduation,” said Jeff Silver, the director of Career Services at the University of Massachusetts in an email interview.

Silver explained UMass students should take advantage of the internship and co-op programs at the University.

“Students at UMass are very fortunate that the University has a vibrant internship and co-op program,” said Silver. “UMass students are also very fortunate that most arts and science majors can earn up to 18 credits of internship credit during their undergraduate years. Students can also accept full time paid positions during the semester and maintain their student status by having their position classified as a co-op.”

UMass does a great deal to help students network and place them in internships which will make graduates more competitive and ultimately, more hirable. Career Services puts on career fairs throughout the year and offers walk-in advising weekly, Silver mentioned.

Silver also explained that UMass surveys its graduates in a way similar to that of the ACE.

“Students are surveyed at the time of graduation, three months after graduation, and six months after graduation,” he said. “Students who have done several top quality internships or co-ops do feel that they were well prepared to enter the job market and are happier with their career choice.”

“Obviously students in high-demand majors such as computer science and accounting have an easier time finding jobs after graduation,” Silver explained.

However, Silver also attributed students’ success in other majors to the opportunities available at UMass.

“I have found that students who have networked, had high-quality internships and have good grades have an easier time finding employment after graduation than the student who has just gone to classes and had the usual summer jobs,” he said.

Communication disorders major and 2010 UMass graduate Courtney Duffy echoed the idea that internships are an invaluable piece of completing a well-rounded college experience.

“UMass taught a lot of theories which are useful to my current occupation, but without hands-on learning and the internship I had last summer, it would have been much more difficult. Theories are great, but I am a hands-on learner,” she added.

Fellow 2010 UMass graduate and resource economics major Randy Swank expressed regret he had not utilized Career Services while at the University.

“I really recommend using Career Services and any other help that the university offers,” he said. “Myself, my peers, and my friends, did not utilize this as much as we should have,”

“I wish UMass had been more persistent on mandating internships and working more hands on with companies to reserve internships and working more hands on with companies to reserve internships,” he went on. “I really like how Northeastern University does this, because internships are important to getting jobs and are very difficult to get at the same time.”

Duffy had a similar perspective on the idea of potentially mandating internships. “I think that the most important role a school could provide is hands-on learning and opportunities for internships,” he said. “You learn a ton while working and they provide great references and opportunities for employment upon graduation.”

Though Swank wishes he had utilized some of the available opportunities at UMass, his opinion falls in line with the respondents of the ACE survey.

“UMass was definitely worth the time and the money,” he said. “During these tough economic times, UMass is one of, if not the best, schools for the price.”

Swank also disagreed with Silver’s opinion that students with more demanding degrees typically find it easier to get a job after graduation,.

“To be honest, I haven’t noticed any majors having an easier or more difficult time getting jobs,” he said. “Finding a job right now takes a lot of patience and can be very frustrating, no matter what you graduated with.”

Duffy is satisfied working at the Franciscan Hospital for Children’s Kennedy Day School Program and is also working towards her master’s degree in special education at Framingham State University, yet she said she wishes her UMass degree would allow her to gain access to higher-salaried positions.

“These days, I feel that to get a higher-paying job (especially in Massachusetts with a degree in liberal arts and education), a master’s is required and would urge people to get the degree as soon as possible,” she said.

Ashley Berger can be reached at [email protected]