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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.

California Vines, California Wines – An Introduction

A few traditionalists may still turn up their noses at wines that don’t have an old-country pedigree, but for the rest of us, California wines have become a staple of restaurants and wine cellars everywhere. In fact, the wine business has been growing ever since the 1970s, when California wines began winning international competitions, breaking record after record. The industry today exports well over a billion dollars in wine annually. The reason for all this success? Coastal weather, fine soil, and American ingenuity.

The first wine made in California was likely prepared by Franciscan missionaries, who needed the wine for its sacramental value as well as its flavor. In the 1830s, the first commercial winery opened, but the wine industry didn’t really develop until the gold rush of the mid-1800s, when many failed miners turned to vineyards as a backup plan. California’s wineries grew without restraint until 1919, when Prohibition became the law of the land, followed by the Great Depression and World War II. The industry didn’t fully recover until 1960, and it has been booming ever since.

California’s unique climate, which millions of people have found extremely agreeable, also happens to provide the ideal conditions for growing wine grapes. This is especially true in northern California, thanks to ocean breezes meeting inland heat and the area’s numerous microclimates suitable for different grape varietals.

Those looking to sample California wine will have a hard time sorting out the great from the great pile of merely acceptable wines. Table wines from Bogle, Colby, and Joel Gott Wines tend to be popular with those looking for a bargain, but oenophiles will do well to seek out some of the better bottles, such as the 2009 Shafer Vineyards Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay or the 2007 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Spice it Up – Tips for Better Spice and Herb Usage

It can be easy enough to grab tried and true spices, follow age-old recipes, and use the same traditional herbs. Indeed, most home cooks tend to stick to tested combinations, like dill and salmon or basil and tomato sauce, which can keep them from experiencing new foods and flavors. The dizzying array of spices at the grocery store may be overwhelming, but with a little practice, it’s easy to transform your cooking with a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that.

As with all things culinary, the most important thing to do is to actually taste and experience the flavor of the ingredients. Take a pinch of an unknown spice, rub it about to release the odor, and inhale deeply; our sense of smell is often far more refined than our sense of taste. After getting a good whiff, proceed to tasting, rolling it across the tongue to hit all the taste buds. The other way to familiarize yourself with an herb or spice is to taste your food as it cooks, allowing the dish to rest a bit before adding each herb or spice. If you understand the impact each flavor has on the dish as a whole, you’ll have a better idea of how to deploy them in new dishes.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself using spices in new and creative ways. Many chefs recommend trying techniques like rubbing meats with spices, making innovative compound butters, or exploring unusual flavors like star anise, achiote, cassia cinnamon, or green cardamom. While some spice experts suggest that there are 15 spice flavor “families,” others tend to think that each spice has its own unique charms. Try a wide range of flavors and see which you like best.

Proper storage of herbs and spices is important for the preservation of their flavors. Avoid keeping the same jars in your pantry forever, as they will eventually lose color and flavor. In addition, keep whole spices unground to preserve their flavor, store containers away from direct sunlight and heat, and don’t sprinkle spices straight from the container into a bubbling pot, to avoid letting steam in. Consider keeping red pepper-related spices in the refrigerator to maintain their color and flavor. With herbs, the best way to ensure you have the flavors you want on hand is to grow them yourself. The most widely used herbs, such as parsley, basil, thyme, and rosemary, are easy to grow and easy to keep.