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Date published: 9/1/2012
The Miami Herald
MIAMI--The glossy brochure promoting Miami Dade College's School of Science opens with the expected burst of lofty language extolling the school's goal of teaching students to question, investigate and formulate conclusions about the world.
But directly under the "Mission" heading, the new pamphlet gets down to business, laying out the paycheck prospects for graduates. Biological technician: $38,396. Horticulturist: $34,511. Environmental technician: $40,227.
"That's what the students care about right now," Dean Heather Belmont said. "Before, students always felt that when they graduated, they could get a job."
High unemployment and battered household finances have colleges working harder to tie their classroom offerings to job offers. From creating courses to accommodate a new industry to customizing a curriculum to a specific employer's hiring criteria, schools are pushing to narrow the gap between academia and the real world.
It's a long-running trend that has accelerated during the recession and limp recovery, at a time when many employers refuse to hire candidates without the exact skills needed for a position.
"How do you become marketable with a degree in management?" asked Robert Sellani, an associate professor of operations management and accounting at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. "It's not easy."
Sellani presides over NSU's new supply-chain master's program, which is designed to train students in the nuts and bolts of moving goods for companies. He said the program came in part from looking around at businesses poised for growth in South Florida despite the wobbly economy.
"It's very obvious with the deep dredging of the Port of Miami, more cargo is going to be ready to move north," Sellani said of the effort to prepare Miami docks for ships serving a deeper Panama Canal, which is also being dredged. With the cargo industry already growing, Sellani said, supply management looked ripe for funneling students into jobs at some of South Florida's top employers.
"We've had interest from City Furniture. We've had interest from Office Depot," he said. "We've had interest from Royal Caribbean."
No field is too narrow. The University of Miami now offers a postgraduate course on real-estate development, and Florida International University is rolling out a course of study on medical paperwork.
The downturn has put a bigger focus than ever on the role education plays in not just landing jobs for students but also improving their wages. With about 3.7 million job openings nationwide--the highest since 2008--experts see a "skills gap" as a main reason for an unemployment rate topping 8 percent.
The Obama administration this year proposed $8 billion to train 2 million people in community-college programs aimed at industries where skilled workers are lacking. Federal dollars funneled through the $800 billion stimulus program have already funded training programs for so-called "green" jobs.