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Updated: July 30, 2018 Commentary

A pioneer in job guarantees sweetens the offerings

Laurie Lachance

As the nation’s economy has evolved to be knowledge-based and technology-driven, Maine is well-positioned to produce the knowledge workers to fuel future growth.

Many institutions of higher learning are reinventing themselves to better serve both students and employers through the creation of more relevant curricula, more comprehensive career services and internship offerings, and more in-depth focus on the personal attributes critical to success in today’s economy, including what are often referred to as soft skills — communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. While there are institutions leading the way, our higher education enterprises as a whole and the many entities that regulate, fund and accredit them, are not changing fast enough.

As the former state economist for three Maine governors and the current president of a small, nonprofit, enrollment-driven college that has neither public funding nor a huge endowment to protect us from the unprecedented market disruptions and demographic forces, I live daily in the eye of the impending storm.

Thomas College offers a suite of guarantees, including one of the nation’s first job guarantees.

Job guarantees

Given that nearly 60% of the students that Thomas College serves are “first-generation” college-goers who come from modest means, it is absolutely imperative that the college experience we provide equip them with the full complement of knowledge, skills and personal attributes that ensures they are fully employable. To hold ourselves and our students accountable, we offer a suite of guarantees, including one of the nation’s first job guarantees. To qualify for the guarantee, our students need to keep up their grades (knowledge), participate in professional and career development programming and an internship (skills), and get involved in leadership development and community service over their four years (personal attributes).

Thomas College has added a degree in digital marketing management in order to keep our marketing and business programs timely. We have evolved our teacher-training program through our Center for Innovation in Education to fully integrate the arts into a more traditional STEM curriculum (STEAM), to model and teach proficiency-based learning, and to provide opportunities for future teachers to experiment with cutting-edge technologies.

New cybersecurity master’s

We’ve also created a program to inspire innovation and design thinking with our newly opened Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation, bringing resources to both students and area entrepreneurs looking to open their own businesses. And in fall 2018, we will add a master’s degree in cybersecurity.

Our Professional and Career Services Office offers a host of other skill-enhancement programming, including our highly innovative “golf guarantee.” The vast majority of Thomas students hail from humble roots, and have most likely never set foot on a golf course. Given that a tremendous amount of networking, fundraising and business is transacted out on the fairways, our students could be at a distinct disadvantage to their wealthier peers. Introducing them to golf simply gives them another tool in their employability toolkit.

To fully showcase our graduates’ knowledge, skills and personal attributes, Thomas has developed a co-curricular transcript that allows our students to document and demonstrate their leadership development, community service, internship and job-shadow experience. These, in addition to certifications and training in areas such as diversity awareness, will ensure that they will be a great colleague and a valuable addition to whatever workforce team they join.

Laurie Lachance is president of Thomas College. She is member of New England Board of Higher Education’s Commission on Higher Education & Employability.

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