The Real World Express: Behind Another Big Campus "Career Readiness" Gift

 A dorm built with Tarble money at Carthage college

We've profiled a bunch of gifts earmarked toward career readiness over the past couple of years, and they all seem to share the same underlying theme: College, more than ever, should be a stepping stone to a good job.

This sounds pretty obvious, but it wasn't always the case. Those of us blessed to matriculate during the Clinton administration don't recall such an overt push for practical career readiness. "If you like poetry, major in poetry," we were told. Internships were encouraged, but not mandated. There was no "digital economy." And 68 percent of seniors who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges didn't have an average student loan debt of $30,100 like they do now. 

Today, though, it can be tough for young people to get a strong foothold in the economy. Solid, well-paying jobs are hard to come by, and record numbers of college grads live at home with their parents. Throw in escalating tuition and burdensome student loans, and it's easy to see why students, parents and donors want to see maximum bang for the tuition buck. The dorm-room to childhood bedroom track is not working for anyone, and there's a lot of new thinking out there about how colleges can get students plugged into the real world.

Which brings us to news out of Kenosha, Wisconsin. That's where Carthage College received a $15 million gift—the largest single gift in its history—from benefactor Jan Tarble to fund a career and welcome center that will equip "graduates to thrive in a rapidly changing workforce."

Interestingly, the gift from the Tarble Family Foundation pulls together a bunch of strands of classroom-to-career work. It will address four main priorities:

  • A dedicated facility that incorporates technology for virtual networking and physical space for in-person interviews and career counseling
  • Enhanced programs designed to promote career readiness and harness the expertise of alumni and parents
  • An endowment to provide additional staffing and attract elite career development professionals
  • An endowment to support experiential learning, including internships and study away

Though the funding totals may differ, news out of Carthage reminds me of a recent $47 million give from the Duke Endowment to Greenville, South Carolina's Furman University. The gift funds the school's new "strategic vision," called Furman Advantage, which "combines a liberal arts education with immersive experiences outside the classroom, creating a personalized pathway."

In addition to providing students with the networking and experiential learning tools to set them on a path to meaningful employment, each gift seems to be directed toward tuition-paying parents as much as the students themselves.

Furman, for example, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times touting Furman Advantage. As I noted at the time,

Clearly directed toward middle-aged readers, it read like a PowerPoint presentation—and yes, there were bullet points—spelling out how their hard-earned money will be effectively used to send Billy on a well-paying career path rooted in the liberal arts.

Meanwhile, in recent survey conducted for Carthage, 97 percent of pre-college students and 100 percent of their parents said whether “graduates get good jobs” was a "somewhat or very important factor in their college decision."

The school has responded in kind. Over the past four years, Carthage has added a director of employer relations and internships, created almost 200 new paid internships through a $349,000 grant, launched the Carthage in Chicago semester program, and started a mentoring initiative to pair students with alumni in their fields.

As we've reported, creating paid internships for students is another campus-to-career strategy that's attracting attention among funders. Nobody has invested more in such internships than the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, a major backer of colleges and universities in the Midwest. 

RelatedFunding Paid Internships for Students is Catching On. But What Approaches Work?

And what about the donor here, Ms. Tarble? She and her family have given more than $51 million to the college. Her recent $10 million gift enabled the construction of the Science Center, which opened in 2015. A longtime Los Angeles resident, Jan Tarble's relationship with Carthage runs through her parents, the late Newton E. and Louise A. (Pat) Tarble.

Her father co-founded Snap-on Inc., now an S&P 500 manufacturing firm, that "heartily welcomed Carthage’s move to Kenosha from western Illinois in the early 1960s."