Job Outlook Improving for College Graduates

I was at Shear Global, RIT’s hair salon, this week and students were practically lined up out the door.  There were so many walk-ins the receptionist had stopped scheduling appointments over the phone.  What was going on?  The answer was obvious:  Job Fair.

Campus visits by employers are a rite of spring, like the opening day of fishing season and the first robin.  One day, the guys show up for class in ill-fitting jackets, the young women in dark pant suits.  Resumes are as polished as the new shoes, and interviewees are prepared to say where they want to be in five (or ten or fifteen) years.

So, what are the employment prospects for this year’s crop of grads?  Finally, there’s some (modestly) good news.

In The Job Outlook for the College Class of 2013, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports, “Employers expect to hire 13 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2013 than they did from the Class of 2012,” according to an NACE survey.  The NACE also reports that more employers this year have firm plans to recruit on campus than did the year before.

The NACE survey doesn’t place Communication among the most sought-after degrees—although the organization points out their survey represents only large to medium-size companies and “not the whole universe of employers.”  However, the top Communication degrees in demand include Public Relations and Advertising.

There is some very good news for RIT Communication graduates:  co-op offers a distinct advantage.  According to the NACE’s survey of more than 15,000 2012 seniors, 60% of those who had completed a paid internship got at least one job offer before graduating.

So, look sharp, class of ’13.  And be sure to show off your ability to communicate verbally (the top “soft” skill sought by employers—NACE).

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Civil Comments, Only, Please

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, “This Story Stinks,” Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele lament the unrealized potential of the Internet as a public sphere for reasoned debate.  It looked promising once, but then “someone invented ‘reader comments’ and paradise was lost.”  Instead of civil argument we get insults and meanness.

The authors argue, based on their study forthcoming in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, that this rash of online incivility in reader responses has consequences for how others perceive and interpret news stories. They call this “the nasty effect.”

In short, rude comments—ad hominem attacks, profanity-laced rants—to publications can affect how readers interpret and react to them.  The authors used an article about nanotechnology and its risks and benefits; one group of study participants read the article accompanied with civil comments, the other with comments including epithets and profanity. The substance of the comments, however, was the same.

“In the civil group,” write Brossard and Scheufele, “those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.”

That is, when it comes to online news stories, nasty comments have real consequences for how readers interpret the stories themselves.

The reaction to reader-comment incivility I hear most often is that this ship has sailed:  online comments are here to stay.  But I wonder.  With the nasty effect’s potential for real harm to, not only reasoned argument, but reasoned interpretation, perhaps it’s time to consider the occasional comment-free zone. 

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Symposium + Gymnasium = A Week in Cancun

Academia is indebted to the ancient Greeks for many of its traditions and terminology, for example, the first word in this sentence.  We also have the symposium and the gymnasium.  Literally, the first of these terms means “drinking together,” the second “exercising naked.”  Combine the two and you have another time-honored custom, Spring Break, which also comes down to us from the Greeks, according to Time’s Brief History of Spring Break.  The ancients set aside time in spring to honor Dionysus, the god of wine and ritual madness.

Spring Break as it is celebrated today owes its start to one man, Sam Ingram, a swim coach at Colgate University.  In 1936 Ingram took his team to Ft. Lauderdale to train in an Olympic-size pool. Within a couple years the area began to publicize a swimming event, the College Coaches’ Swim Forum, which drew hundreds of students.  Before long the town was dubbed “Ft. Liquorville.” 

ImageAfter that a steady stream of college students flowed south in spring, swelling to a river in the 1960s—helped along by the movie “Where the Boys Are,” starring George Hamilton—and a torrent soon thereafter.  This year Panama City, FL, alone will draw half a million undergraduates.

Recent surveys of Spring Breakers show the average student spends $1,100 a week and that large numbers stay drunk nearly all the time.  Also, and predictably, this leads to a good deal of dangerous behavior, including unprotected sex.  Every year several young people die after tumbling from balconies.

Universities have responded by organizing Alternative Spring Breaks, when students spend a week engaged in volunteer service.  At RIT, students on 2013 Alternative Spring Break, organized by the university’s Leadership Institute and Community Service Center, will travel to New Orleans where they’ll help rebuild sites damaged by hurricanes and have some fun, too. 

Spring Break often occurs in February, which, of course, is part of winter.  RIT’s initial such holiday after switching to a semester calendar will take place from March 24 to 28, 2014.  Given at least some students will get things started the preceding Thursday, we should expect that inaugural salute to Dionysus to begin on the very first day of spring.

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Farewell, Quarters

RIT is getting close to saying goodbye to the quarter system forever.  Finally, after three years of painstaking work converting curricula, courses, policies, lots of computer programs, and plenty of other details, the university is (fingers crossed) prepared to move to a semester calendar in fall 2013.  What will the change mean for Communication students? 

More time during semesters

We—everyone at RIT—will shift into a less hectic schedule.  With classes spread out over 15 weeks, although you’ll spend only five more hours in class per course compared with quarters, there will be an additional five weeks for projects and term assignments.  Under semesters, you’ll have more time to absorb and reflect on information.

More time between semesters

The quarter system can be brutal with its short breaks between terms.  On semesters, students will enjoy a five-week break between fall and spring. That’s long enough to recharge your batteries as well as to get a job or travel.  Besides, on the new calendar students will be in vacation-sync with friends at other schools.

Fewer required courses

With the total number of courses a Comm. student takes in his or her RIT career reduced from about 48 to 40, obviously something had to go.  Our degree programs have slimmed down from 15 or 16 to 13 required Communication classes.  In some instances, content from two classes was combined into one.

One co-op

Since 1986, when the Department of Communication started offering a degree, students have completed two quarter-long co-ops.  This allowed them to sample two different jobs, or in some instances stay in one place over two quarters in a “double block.”  Under semesters students will be required to complete a single 15-week co-op.  I suspect this will be a benefit:  students and employers alike have long complained that, on the quarter system, many co-op employees leave right when they’re finally ready to work independently.

What I especially look forward to is breaking out of what seems like a constant state of registration. It seems as if we’re just beginning a quarter and we’re already planning for the next.

You had a nice run, quarter calendar.  So long!

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Communication a Degree Employers Love

With all the bad news about rising tuition and student loan debt, people are justified in asking, “Is a college degree really worth it?”  A 2012 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce answers with an emphatic “yes”—depending on the degree.

Among the bad choices are some familiar faces, like Philosophy.  There’s also a surprise, Architecture, which thanks to the housing slump is the single worst pick.  One of the best degree options?  Communication.

The study, “Hard Times:  College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings,” is based on data from the American Community Survey for the years 2009 and 2010.  For each major, it reports unemployment rates and median earnings for recent graduates (between 22 and 26 years old), experienced graduates (30 to 54), and those with graduate degrees (also 30 to 54).

Some perspective:  “Unemployment for students with new Bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent,” the authors write,” but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high schools diploma—and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.”

In that context, Communication looks very good, even if we’d prefer lower numbers.  Unemployment for recent graduates is at 7.3 percent, for experience degree holders 6.0 percent, and for those with graduate degrees 4.1 %.

And that’s not all. “Hard Times” includes Journalism degrees within Communication, offering some good news all around.

Communication fares so well in the report that an article on Yahoo! Education, “Degrees Employers Hate and Love,” based in part on the Georgetown study, calls a Bachelor’s in Communication “Loved Degree #2,” right behind Health Care Administration.  (Hated degrees 1 and 2 are Architecture and Fine Arts, respectively.)

They love us!  They really love us!

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How safe are our schools?

We’ve had terrible news lately:  the horror in Newtown, CT, and now, very close to home, the shootings in Webster, where two firefighters were murdered on Christmas Eve.  The gun debate aside, the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary raise an inevitable question that is on the minds of parents everywhere, whether their kids are in first grade or at college:  Just how safe are our schools?

The facts are unequivocal.  Violence of any kind in schools, let alone mass shootings, is very much the exception. Violent crime in schools has “decreased significantly” in the past 20 years, according to a recent report on National Public Radio, “Violence in Schools:  How Big a Problem Is It?” (March 16, 2012).

“Not only are rates of school violence going steadily down, but it’s clear that schools are the safest place for a student to be,” says Stephen Brock of California State University, an authority on school violence quoted in the NPR report.

What’s true of American elementary and secondary schools is true of our college campuses, as well.  University students are considerably less likely to be victims of violence than are non-students in the same age group:  61 per 1,000 students versus 75 per 1,000 nonstudents between 1995 and 2002 (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: “Violent Victimization of College Students, 1995-2002,” January 2005).  Fully 93% of the violence against college students occurred off campus.

And mass shootings in schools?  According to James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University who has studied mass murders dating to 1976, “In schools, where public angst over shootings is often highest, the truth is … definitive: Deadly shootings are rare and getting rarer” (quoted in “From Sandy Hook to Dunblane, shootings leave unforgettable legacies,” USA Today, December 14, 2012).

That a mass murder like the one at Newtown is an anomaly is little if any comfort now.  But we should be clear that our schools and campuses are exceptionally safe.

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The end of brick-and-mortar universities?

Have you heard the buzz about MOOCs?  This acronym with the unfortunate sound-alike—“mook” is slang for “loser”—stands for Massive Open Online Course, of the sort offered for free by companies like Coursera.  The popularity of MOOCs, with thousands of students logging on to a single class taught by leading professors from elite universities, has led to speculation about a future without campuses.

University officials have begun to fret openly about just such a possibility.  A senior administrator at RIT recently spoke of how online education experts asked him how he could justify having so many buildings.  He repeated this question to faculty to show how online education threatens the traditional model of post-secondary schooling, while urging them to come up with more online courses here. 

The Department of Communication has long been involved in online education—in fact, we consider ourselves early adopters.  We began offering a number of such courses in the early 1990s.  And we’ll continue to look for ways to deliver some of our classes online, particularly at the graduate level. 

 We’ve even discussed—very tentatively—the notion of creating MOOCs of our own.  Courses open to a worldwide classroom would allow us to connect with a huge audience, obviously, and help extend the DOC brand.

But for now we’re still focused on providing the sort of education students tell us they prefer: in small classes that meet a couple times a week in a room.

No question:  we have to find ways to reverse the trend of rising costs.  Campus buildings and all the stuff in them are expensive.  And that expense is reflected in the cost of going to college, which according to the U.S. Department of Education has tripled since 1980, in inflation-adjusted dollars.  Little wonder college student debt is at an all-time high, at just over $25 thousand. 

But eliminate our campuses and the experience of “going away” to college, of spending a few years exploring ideas face-to-face with others in a real physical space?  The phrase “brick-and-mortar” has entered our language as a necessary distinction with the online world.  We now must refer to brick-and-mortar stores because we shop so often on the Internet.  Is it possible that in our lifetimes we will begin referring to brick-and-mortar universities?








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