Letter: It ain’t necessarily so. Post-graduate career survey results

So you want a job, but those that appeal to you (or are available) are on the “dark side” – they are in corporate America. You find yourself scuttling through the shadows to the CDO to find out how to compete, and mumbling to your friends about your future plans, expecting that “they just won’t understand.”

Or will they? Recent findings on campus suggest your options may be better supported than you think.

As we began our strategic planning work on improving post-graduate success on campus, our “post-graduate success” working group quickly encountered a persistent paradox. We heard often, especially from students and alumni, that Grinnellians do not support careers in the for-profit sector. Yet when we asked individuals if they felt that for-profit careers were inconsistent with a Grinnell education, many acknowledged such a belief exists, but very few people would “own” that point of view.

We decided to test campus opinions with a survey, administered to all faculty, staff and students last semester. The results are now in, and they are quite interesting.

We surveyed all 282 faculty, 485 staff, and 1632 students (a total of 2399 individuals) last semester; 46 percent of the faculty, 31 percent of the staff, and 24 percent of the students responded.

We asked everyone if they personally agreed or disagreed with three propositions:
A career working in for-profit organizations is consistent with Grinnell’s core values.
Any career can be consistent with Grinnell’s core values.
A career working in nonprofit organizations is consistent with Grinnell’s core values.
In order to get at the possible disconnect between what people think themselves and what they believe other people think, we also asked them to tell us if they agreed or disagreed with the following:
I believe a majority of the faculty (or staff, or students) believe this proposition.
I personally believe this proposition.
Let’s focus on the for-profit and nonprofit results, and accept that the question about “any career” was subject to a variety of statistically inconsistent interpretations.

Regarding nonprofit careers, there is no surprise that Grinnell’s campus is united in its enthusiastic support for this career path. Only 3 percent of the people who completed the survey disagree or strongly disagree that a nonprofit career fits Grinnellian values (that’s 19 individuals out of 674). This response pattern holds true across all three constituencies. And everyone perceives that a majority of others believe this as well.

When we look at careers in the for-profit sector, however, there is far greater support for this career path than we tend to assume. (Remember that for-profit careers include running your own marketing business or working for Bank of America, producing records in Nashville or running an organic-foods restaurant in Chicago.)

Of the three groups surveyed, faculty members are the most supportive group regarding for-profit careers. For instance, 92% of faculty believe that such work is consistent with Grinnell values or they have no strong feelings against it (even though only 47% of students think that a majority of faculty support this position). Only 7.75% of faculty themselves see for-profit work as incompatible with Grinnell values. Thirty-nine percent of students indicated that a majority of other students do not believe for-profit careers are consistent with Grinnell’s values, when in fact only 16% of students are opposed. That means 84% of students believe a career in the for-profit sector is compatible with Grinnell’s values or don’t have a strong opinion about it. Of all those who responded on campus, 15% disagree that a for-profit career is compatible with Grinnell’s values. All other respondents think for-profit careers fit our values or have no strong opinion one way or the other.

We also asked respondents to indicate their top three criteria that lead to post-graduate success. At least a third of all respondents gave a vote to a well-rounded education, internships, the ability to translate classroom skills, advanced research, leadership positions and lifelong learning. Students felt more strongly about internships, while faculty and staff ranked the translation of classroom skills more highly, but there was a great deal of consistency on the most important factors.

So what’s our conclusion? A clear majority of people in the Grinnell community see a career in either the nonprofit or for-profit sectors as compatible with Grinnell’s values. The question students should be asking themselves is, “what is the best choice for me?” Our students possess an array of interests, values, skills, and abilities. And as a College community, we should continue striving to help them cultivate these talents so that when they leave this place as alumni, they are poised to make a substantial difference wherever they land: as a consultant, as a policy analyst, as a banker, or as an activist.

To see all the data visit: https://pioneerweb.grinnell.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_23_1

— Lesley Wright and Mark Peltz
Co-Chairs, Post-Graduate Success Strategic Planning Working Group