Evolving Entry-Level Job Market Leaves Most Colleges Behind

A recent article published in the Washington Post’s online edition highlighted current problems in helping college students smoothly transition from school to the workplace. More than 80 percent of students in the United States leave their four-year educational institutions without being able to transition immediately into a job. In large part, this is because the market for entry-level positions has shifted, without a corresponding adaptation on the part of educational institutions.

A recent study publicized by respected consulting firm McKinsey & Company lends additional context and support to these assertions. The study found that, while an overwhelming majority of college officials believe that their programs have prepared graduates to obtain and succeed in well-paying entry-level jobs, most employers—and the students themselves—hold a different view. In fact, less than half of recent college graduates believe that their degrees have prepared them for the job market, and the same percentage of prospective employers agree.

Colleges mistakenly assume that their responsibility ends with having offered students basic job-search training and career counseling. However, students tend not to use college-based career services effectively, and small-to-medium-sized companies find that establishing a presence on campus is too expensive. New graduates also often lack a meaningful understanding of how their skills fit with a potential employer’s requirements.

Colleges can ensure their practices are in sync with the demands of today’s job market by providing career counseling and job-search assistance throughout a student’s educational journey, beginning at a student’s enrollment. They can also help by making it easier for employers to maintain a presence on campus, and by conducting more comprehensive outreach to smaller and medium-sized companies. In addition, because students who have completed successful internships are more likely to find employment after graduation, schools should improve the quality and quantity of available internship opportunities.

The problem of transitioning students from college to career is not unique to America, and one university program, several continents away, is demonstrating how this challenge can be successfully met. In Rwanda, the two-year-old Kepler program has already served as a pioneer in easing the transition from education to employment. Kepler, a project of the nonprofit scholarship-funding group Generation Rwanda, offers competency-based, internationally accredited undergraduate business degrees for only about $1,000 per year. The initiative has already leveled the playing field for hundreds of deserving but under-resourced young adults.

A large part of Kepler’s innovative approach is its intense focus on education-to-employment preparation. Strong partnerships with prestigious employers mean that Kepler students gain job skills through meaningful internships and work-study experiences. More than 4 out of 5 Kepler students land internships after their first year in the program, and 2 out of 3 receive paying internships. Given their extraordinary success thus far, Kepler has set a realistic goal of having all of their students receive internships in the near future.

In addition, the Kepler curriculum stresses the mastery of core skills that prove critical to real world job situations, including an emphasis on problem-solving and the ability to teach oneself to learn from and adapt to changing real world conditions. Kepler students also receive significant levels of career counseling, coaching, and training while enrolled. Added up, it’s not surprising that
employers have been so enthusiastic about how strong and well prepared Kepler students are.


From the Patio to the Woods – Outdoor Dining in LA

In most of the United States, sitting down for a restaurant meal under the open sky, perhaps with only a patio umbrella for a bit of shade, is a delight restricted to a few months out of the year. However, Los Angeles residents can enjoy eating in beautiful, sunny weather nearly every day at a multitude of restaurants specializing in outdoor dining.

Many Angelenos opt for classic patios, like the Peninsula Beverly Hills’ Roof Garden, where dinners can enjoy barbeque on a classic rooftop dining room, or the seaside delights of Nobu Malibu, where skillfully prepared seafood is accompanied by ocean spray and plenty of sun. The city boasts a wide variety of patio dining, ranging from the modestly priced fare eaten on picnic tables at Malibu Seafood to the parkland beauty and haute cuisine of Cafe Pinot. Eating at many of the best al fresco dining spots feels like participating in a Who’s Who of LA royalty. The best example is Chateau Marmont, which has a garden patio where cheerful tourists eat side by side with Hollywood’s best and brightest.

For those who want to surround themselves with nature, Trails Cafe in Griffith Park and Top of the Notch on Mount Baldy offer some of the most astounding natural scenery LA County has to offer. Diners can enjoy more tamed scenery at the otherwise unremarkable Chinese Tea House in the Huntington Gardens. While the food often fails to make a huge impact, the Chinese garden itself is outstanding. For fine dining, opt for the Inn of the Seventh Ray in the Santa Monica Mountains. More adventurous diners might choose to sign up for Urban Outdoor Skills’ foraging classes, where al fresco dining goes one step further, and guests pluck their dinners from LA soil itself.

College for America – A Pioneer in Competency-Based Degrees

College for America, based in New Hampshire, partners with the Kepler program in Rwanda to provide United States accreditation for Kepler’s competency-based college degrees. In 2013, Southern New Hampshire University drew media attention for its work in creating College for America. That year, the Department of Education granted approval for federal financial aid monies to be directed to the school, a first for a competency-based education program. College for America remains among the few schools in the U.S. to upend the traditional higher education model by focusing on what students know and can do, rather than the number of hours they’ve logged sitting in a classroom.

Supporters of competency-based education say it offers exciting new pathways for working-class adults and other non-traditional students to earn meaningful academic degrees that demonstrate their actual abilities. It is not unusual for American students to work at several part-time jobs in order to pay for college, leaving them little time to actually immerse themselves in learning. A high-quality competency-based model frees students and administrators alike from having to stick to a one-size-fits-all schedule. In fact, some well-qualified College for America students have obtained their fully accredited associate’s degrees in as little as a few months.

More and more experts in education have begun to analyze what American college graduates actually know. One 2006 study found that only about 30 percent could handle a rudimentary problem in consumer math. Such findings compel the question: Are university students genuinely receiving a high-quality product in return for the large tuition fees they pay each year?

The problem of providing an adequate college education at an affordable cost is even more significant for students in the developing world, who face additional challenges. Rwanda, for example, has experienced devastating recent civil wars, battles with HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and social and political disintegration.

More than a decade ago, the nonprofit group Generation Rwanda began offering scholarship funding to orphans and other socially vulnerable young people. In 2013, the organization’s focus shifted to its innovative Kepler program, which offers undergraduate degrees at a price of only $1,000 annually. Kepler combines access to massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered through leading universities with in-person dialogue, project work, and career training and counseling to achieve demonstrable educational competencies. Thanks to its collaboration with College for America, Kepler can verify that its students possess the critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills required to be successful in the workforce.

LA Fast Food Ban Fails in Fight against Obesity

As study after study shows that Americans are gaining dangerous amounts of weight, many public policy experts have striven to find effective regulatory solutions. In 2008, Los Angeles officials sought to curb unhealthy eating in its impoverished South LA neighborhood by imposing a ban on new fast-food restaurants. However, according to recent independent research from the Rand Corporation, instead of becoming healthier, people in the neighborhood actually gained weight between 2007 and 2012.

The study looked at those who were either obese or simply overweight and found a startling rise from 63% to 75%. While the studies only looked at South LA, a relatively small part of the city, the neighborhood comprises some 700,000 residents, creating a huge potential sample. Given that the national obesity rate only ticked up a single percentage point in the same period, the results are dismaying for public health experts in LA.

The Rand report suggested that the ban failed to achieve its aims because the zoning laws only targeted traditional fast-food establishments and didn’t encompass all kinds of unhealthy foods. Furthermore, the law never managed to address the other part of the problem: lack of access to local healthy food outlets. Others have claimed that an influx of Latino residents in South LA may have had an effect, though this suggestion relies on anecdotal data. The LA County Department of Public Health has acknowledged the report, but has urged people to refrain from making any judgments, arguing that changing people’s habits can require far more than a few years of a single policy.

Mastering Smoke and Fire – Barbecue Basics

There is no better way to celebrate the return of good weather than by having a proper barbecue. Although the messy, delicious food, slathered in rich and complex sauces and served with a healthy side of napkins, may appear to be a simple meal, the process of cooking it is deceptively complex. Those who want to bring the perfect ribs to their table will do well to study the art properly before attempting to BBQ.

Good BBQ requires plenty of preparation, starting with cleaning the grill. While you can prepare BBQ on a gas or electric grill, many prefer the flavor of charcoal, which often makes for easier smoking. Don’t bother buying meat from the supermarket cold case; instead, seek out a proper butcher and ask for advice on good cuts of meat. Some experts believe that spare ribs make the best BBQ, especially a St. Louis cut. Finally, when BBQ day arrives, remember to get everything ready ahead of time, and be sure to rest the meat until it reaches room temperature.

When barbequing, you need to cook the meat very slowly, so it is best to get started many hours before mealtime. Start the coals, ideally with a chimney starter, and prepare some water-soaked wood chips for the smoker. Hickory chunks are best, though apple and oak will also work. If you only have a simple grill, you can get by with wrapping the chips or chunks in aluminum foil poked with a few holes. While cooking, try to maintain a grill temperature around 220. It’s also important to keep the lid closed and the ribs away from direct heat. After roughly four hours, when the rib meat begins to come away from the bones but still maintains its general integrity, it’s time to lather on the BBQ sauce and bake the ribs over direct heat for a few minutes to seal in the flavor.