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Career College helps new generation steer careers [Career College Association]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
The Link / Career College Association
Winter 2008, page 35
Photos by Steve Barrett

ART HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PASSION for Kevynn Joseph (pictured right with his teacher, medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer).

Although he received an associate’s degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1990, he chose to enlist in the Navy after graduation. For a decade, he worked as a shipman and deck seaman, doodling aboard to entertain the other sailors and freelancing a bit when he was on leave, he knew that if he wanted to work as a commercial artist he needed to go back to school.

So last year, the 37-year-old enrolled in the animation program at the Art Institute of Washington (AIW) in Arlington, VA.

“I could always draw, and enjoyed the excitement and freedom of freelancing, but I decided that another degree in art would set me on the career path that I dreamed of,” he says. “Rather than being all about art theory and conceptualization, my teachers at AIW offer a very practical approach to learning the craft of animation. I appreciate that, and know it will help me get a good job when I graduate next year.”

His design and life drawing teacher, Marie Dauenheimer (also pictured right), says she has no doubt. “Kevynn is a natural when it comes to drawing and design, and really shines as one of the best students in my class,” Dauenheimer explains. “It’s partly his natural talent for art, but because he is older,
he knows what he wants and is willing to do whatever it takes
to achieve his goal.”

Dauenheimer says the combination of talent and maturity will benefit Kevynn in the future. “Students know they can come to AIW and study animation, graphic design, game art and design, even fashion retail and merchandising, but what really interests them in schools like this is the fact that the staff is determined to help them get a good job after graduation. That is a key point, and I think it’s also the reason our enrollment numbers keep going up.”

Keeping Their Eye on the Prize

Last year, in fact, 93.7 percent of AIW’s 160 graduates were working in their field of study within six months of graduation. The average starting salary: $32,533.

Kirsten Wright, director of career services at AIW, says it is her mission to help her graduates get a job. “We work with all the students from the day they walk in to school until well after they graduate,” she says, noting there are several people on the case. “We have a student employment advisor who focuses on what job would be best for each student, two career service advisors who focus only on the students who are about to graduate or have just graduated, and we recently hired an alumni advisor to work with our alumni and other Art Institute alumni nationwide to help grads find those second jobs, and even gallery shows.”

The biggest assist goes to recent grads, Wright explains.

“We teach them to treat their job search as a job. But we don’t place them in jobs. We just help them open the doors. The good news is that now that we have developed a name and reputation for turning out great artists, our graduates are being solicited by top employers in D.C.”

Michelle Mercurio, director of career services at DeVry University in Arlington, VA. says her department offers a similar service. “Many students are returning to college who have already spent time in the workforce and come in to further their careers,” she explains. “Although we offer a broad curriculum
that includes communications, humanities, and classes in the social sciences, we really focus on producing a career-oriented, polished professional.”

The goal, she says, is to graduate increasing numbers of students with degrees in business and technology, accounting and game and simulation programming.

The employers seem impressed, as evidenced at a job fair held in October. Hundreds of students turned out to meet representatives from Fortune 500 corporations that included IBM and Accenture.

DeVry student Lindzie Titera, 19, says access to big-name employers is one of the reasons she chose to attend DeVry.

“Both of my parents graduated from the school and thought it would be the best option for me, too,” explains Titera, who is studying for a double degree in computer engineering technology and electronic engineering technology. “I am going to get through my program in three years, so I can start earning a living in a field that I enjoy.”

Battling the Drop Out Epidemic

Such a sentiment is common among career college students and graduates, and experts believe that in the coming years an increasing number of students will opt to attend a for-profit institution.

Currently, there are about 2,700 accredited career colleges nationwide, which enrolled more than 2 million students in the 2005-2006 academic year, according to a study conducted by the Imagine America Foundation, a research and public education affiliate of the Career College Association.

Data suggest that these schools have an annual economic impact of more than $38 billion, which includes $14.6 billion in direct institutional impact, and $4 billion in related student fees and expenses.

Most encouraging are data found in the Foundation’s Fact Book 2007, which indicates that graduation rates are higher at
career colleges than at other comparable institutions:

“Three years after enrollment, students at private career schools and colleges have a higher completion rate (64 percent) and lower dropout rate (33 percent) than students at
community colleges.”

Stopping the high school drop out rate has become a mission for many organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In a March 2006 report by John Bridgeland, et al., for Civic Enterprises, which worked in association with Peter D. Hart
Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers wrote: “High drop out rates are a silent epidemic afflicting our nation’s high schools. The dropout epidemic in the U.S. disproportionately affects young people who are low-income, minority urban, single-parent children attending large, public high schools in the inner city.”

And consider this: In 2003, 3.5 million youths—ages 16 to 25—did not have a high school diploma and were not enrolled in school, the report says. Most of this number attended one of nearly 2,000 high schools concentrated in about 50 large cities, primarily in the southern and southwestern states. One of those states is Tennessee.

Tennessee: A Case Study

According to 2005 Census data, 18.9 percent of people in
Tennessee’s labor force don’t have a high school diploma, compared to 15.9 percent in the U.S. More than a third of Tennessee’s workers (34.5 percent) have only a high school education, compared to the national average (29.6 percent).

Educators at the business college of Middle Tennessee State
University thought they might have a solution. Last year, they
conducted a study to determine if private for-profit career
colleges would be the answer.

They looked at data and interviewed underrepresented
minorities and nontraditional students to determine if career colleges could have an economic impact on the state and the future of these citizens.

Not only did the study, released in February 2007, find that private career colleges have an economic impact of $330 million—but associate director of the business school, Dr. Murat Arik, says that in addition to enhancing business competitiveness, on average an additional year of career-level college would lead to an increase in annual earned income by 11.4 percent ($2,848).

Those who benefited most, Arik says, are African Americans, aged 35 to 44.

“Given the fact that private for-profit career colleges are racially more diverse, have more nontraditional students, and have programs reflecting demands in labor markets, the economic impact of these colleges on Tennessee’s economy goes well beyond the $330 million economic impact of their operations.”

Shifting into a New Career

Career college is also a great way to help a student change careers.

Consider Rebecca Dunlap, 30. Although she has a degree in art from the Virginia Commonwealth University, she couldn’t get traction in the field. After a few years, she decided to give up her life as a fine artist, and enrolled in culinary school at La Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md.

“My family was always into gourmet cooking, even before it was the thing to do,” she says. “Since cooking is an art form, I decided a career as a chef sounded like fun.”

After six months of classes, she landed an internship at the posh 1789 restaurant in Washington, D.C. as a line cook making salads, cold appetizers and desserts. After graduation, she got a job in Middleburg, VA. at Market Salamander, a “working chef’s market,” owned by Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television.

Then last summer, she decided to move west and now
works at Café & Majestic, a bistro in the tony Hotel Majestic in San Francisco.

“Working in a restaurant is hard work, long hours, and you work when others are playing,” she says. “But I love what I do, and wouldn’t have done anything different in my career. I learned something important in each of my academic and
professional experiences, and that has set me up to be flexible, creative in my thinking, and roll with the punches.”

Next, she says, she’d like to build her own business as a personal chef. “Although many students think going to culinary school is going to be easier than going to a traditional college, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t a walk in the park,” she says. “But it was very rewarding. We were learning to cook from the very first day, and that experience prepared me for what it would be like to work in the real restaurant.”

Looking Toward the Workplace of the Future

In the decades to come, more people are likely to take their careers into their own hands and use career colleges to help them get where they want to go, forecasts futurist Andy Hines of the D.C.-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

The reason: the type of person entering the workforce is changing.

“People joining the workforce today, what we call Generation Y, are clever about doing what it takes to land the kind of job they want,” he says. “Yes, money is important to them for they are a practical lot and need to pay the bills. But I equally important to them is the need to find interesting work that is fulfilling and beneficial to the world.”

In fact, Hines recently completed a study for MTV entitled: “The Future of Youth Happiness: What Makes 12-24-year-olds Happy?” Along with researchers from MTV, Hines’ team of futurists talked to dozens of youths about what makes them happy today, and what they believe will do so in the future.

“It was interesting to see that for the first time in decades, if not in history, being happy is incredibly important to a generation of people,” says Hines, who points to findings that show 91 percent of youths polled said they would take control of their happiness (81 percent have career / work goals, and 64 percent plan to go on to college). They also saw few obstacles in their pursuit of happiness that they will not be able to overcome. Another shift: When it comes to money, GenY sees their salary more as a means rather than an end.

“Relative wealth and status are important, but not absolute,” Hines notes. “Although 69 percent of the youths we polled said they want to be rich, 51 percent say it is not at all likely that they will actually be rich.”

This finding is a real change in generational behavior, he suggests.

“The generations before them believed working hard to achieve money and status was the ultimate goal,” Hines explains. “But the generation growing up in America today has a new set of priorities.”

As a result, he believes, the workforce of the future will
behave differently than the workforce today:

“Creativity will be valued more and as technology continues to evolve more ‘knowledge workers’ will be required to fill jobs. These talented people will want to work with other talented people, and although money will be important it will become less of a differentiator. Instead, people will look for the opportunity to work with others they can learn from and successfully collaborate with.”

Other coming shifts will include:

Social networks: The concept of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” will become even more true in the coming decade as social networks proliferate, Hines says. “Forget finding a job through ‘Fortune Magazine’s Top 100 Employers to Work For.’ Companies beneath the radar, those that have a buzz with people on MySpace, will be the ones job seekers will want.”

The balance of power: “You know those job fairs where the potential employer stands on one side of the table and job seekers race up to drop off their resumes?” asks Hines. “That will likely be a thing of the past.” Instead, he says, those with the talent will have the power. “I foresee the students sitting at the tables and employers walking around hoping to get to some face time with them.”

Free agent nation: The concept of lifelong employment is already becoming a thing of the past. In the future, more employees and employers will embrace that reality, Hines believes. “We’ll start to see the move towards project-based contracts where managers will realize that people come in and help out the company for a few years, then renegotiate. More people will be signing two-year contracts, just as athletes and models do today.”

The ethical career: “As we saw in the MTV Happiness study, the importance of having a high-paying job will be replaced with more people wanting jobs that reflect their values,” Hines concludes. “We’re already seeing the trend of ethical consumption, where people buy products and services that are organic, and this will expand into the career realm.” Increasingly, he notes, this will be used as a recruiting tool. “More employers will offer jobs to candidates with the caveat that they can do this to make the world a better place.”

Hope Katz Gibbs is a writer based in Northern Virginia.


More Career College Association Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.