Carthage College to require career preparation program for all students

Will use $15 million gift to fund experiential learning, add staff

Carthage College's campus in Kenosha.

Last updated on June 19th, 2019 at 04:04 pm

Carthage College is leveraging a $15 million gift to fund a new career development program aimed at helping students connect their liberal arts education to the workforce.

Beginning with the incoming class this fall, all students will be required to participate in the new program, called Aspire, throughout their four years.

When the college first announced in 2016 it had received a gift from the Tarble Family Foundation  – the single largest in its history – it planned to fund a new career and welcome center on the Kenosha campus. But after soliciting feedback from alumni and students and visiting other campuses, the concept evolved from investing in brick and mortar to instead devoting more resources to programs and staff.

“It made clear to us that we had an opportunity to do something remarkable and distinctive in developing a comprehensive four-year career development program for all undergraduates that would start from day one, and in which they could enroll as easily as they could in classes,” said John Swallow, president of Carthage College.

Swallow, who joined the college in July 2017, said the $15 million gift will now largely fund an endowment to add more staff and support experiential learning opportunities.

“It’s student-focused programming that is what this is most about, and after providing that, we could ask, ‘Do we need facilities that facilitate that?’” Swallow said. “But if much of the work that students will doing is off campus, then we need to attend to other things, not facilities here.”

Swallow said Aspire’s four prongs for preparing students for life after college include: experiential education, specific career preparation (personality assessments, job search strategies and interviewing skills), creativity and entrepreneurship development, and leadership skills development.

From the time incoming freshmen visit campus for advanced class registration in the summer, they will meet with career counselors to begin mapping out those opportunities, Swallow said.

In a survey conducted last year, 71 percent of Carthage students said they had given a lot of thought to their plans after graduation, but less than half had visited the college’s existing career services. Meanwhile, nearly 50 percent of surveyed Carthage alumni reported they wished they had more career preparation during college.

Swallow said the Aspire program needs to be tailored to each student, while also being scalable among the college’s 2,600 students.

“It can’t be an absolutely uniform experience because not all students need exactly the same thing,” he said. “So, although it will apply to all, regardless of their major, it is going to feel different and include different opportunities depending on their interests and passions … Part of the challenge here is to manage something that is not identical for everyone.”

Aspire fits into Swallow’s goal of seeing Carthage become more integrated in the region. The program will allow the college to form stronger partnerships with businesses and organizations in southeastern Wisconsin, he said.

“We want to be part of the growth and development of the region, not only because this will benefit our students, but because that growth is going to shape society and culture and we need to accept some responsibility for what that will be,” Swallow said.

Understanding workforce shortages and connecting students to jobs is central to the work of the Higher Education Regional Alliance (HERA), a committee of leaders from 18 higher education institutions in the seven-county Milwaukee region. Swallow has been part of that group from the outset. HERA leaders have been meeting over the past year with the goals of raising the region’s college completion rate, increasing program innovation and better connecting employers with the talent coming out of the colleges.

One of higher education’s biggest challenges, Swallow said, is setting students on a trajectory during their college years for jobs that are continually changing.

“We can’t recruit for a job that doesn’t exist,” Swallow said. “…but you want to skate to where the puck’s going.”

Lisa Hinkley, associate vice president and executive director for career and professional development at Carthage, oversees the Aspire program. Hinkley said developing students’ entrepreneurialism, leadership and creativity is increasingly important to meet workforce needs.

“As we look forward to times ahead, there are going to be radical shifts in the labor market,” she said. “Some estimates suggest that 40 percent of jobs are going to be radically different over the course of the next 10 years. And as we think about how we prepare students for that environment, they need to have the skills to adapt to and lead the change.”

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