We all know college has become an important and, in many cases, a necessary step for people to take in our culture. In 1950 only about 9% of 18-24 year olds were attending degree granting schools (which included those attending high school) whereas today 77% of 18-24 year olds are attending degree granting institutions (not including high school - for source click here). However you look at this and whatever we think might be the cause of such an increase, this is a massive cultural shift. Over the course of this trend there have been waves and cycles that have effected a number of things in both the Church as well as culturally, both too long to discuss in this post (to read more of on this subject, click here). For this post, I would simply like to share one shift in how college is viewed that I see having a tremendous impact on how we can minister to college-age people.
Put simply, the shift is that fewer people view a college degree as a right of passage. What does this mean? Well, the bottom line is people/employers/etc are less concerned with a degree and more concerned with experience - or at least we are moving that direction. The shift that is beginning doesn't necessarily negate a college degree, but the key is to realize it's not limited to it. Actual work experience will increasingly become the most critical element in our culture.
I consult with churches, denominations as well as businesses that hire recent college grads. And although the degree can be important for many positions, employers are starting to see the benefit of hiring people with experience over those with degrees.
Does this mean employers are devaluing a degree? Not entirely, but it is losing some value.
It used to be that a college degree was a right of passage into the workforce. For lack of better terms, it was viewed (and still is in some cases) as a 'hoop' to get through to do what you want to do. It was viewed this way by all parties - parents, children and employers. Not to take away from the necessity of a degree for most middle-class suburbanites, but the reality is fewer people want to just get a degree...and I believe you will continue to see fewer and fewer employers viewing a degree as a necessity for positions in their company.
So, what does this mean for those of us in ministry?
Here are 2 things you might consider doing in your church with this in mind:
- Emphasize and promote work experience. Encourage college students to get work with organizations like GroupMissionTrips. Organizations like this would give perhaps the most important "work experience." That is, experience with leading and organizing people. If someone wants to be an engineer, this probably won't be the biggest factor in an engineering firm hiring someone. But there are a lot of businesses that see experience like this as a HUGE benefit.
- Make intentional connections for students. Connect the students you know to real life people that are actually doing what your students want to do. Encourage older individuals in your church to offer internships and maybe even consider going to larger businesses in your area and ask if they have any internships available for students...and then you be the one to make the connection!