College and After

Jeffrey Seligno is one of the most well-read and influential journalists of higher education. His first two books, College (Un) bound and MOOC U, were popular and well-reviewed. An editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education for several years, Seligno’s work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on television. He is an extremely effective when it comes to capturing the zeitgeist of educational trends and concerns. He has been published in The Atlantic and that magazine perhaps best aligns with his strengths: contemporary, relevant, middlebrow, and topical, but coming at things from a slightly different perspective.

In There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow, Seligno tackles the question of what happens after the baccalaureate. He captures the anxiety of students and their families, weaving together reports, statistics and individual accounts. Higher education does not neatly align with the job market. It never has. However, increases in the cost of tuition, higher student debt, and little wage growth has fueled the problem, leading to a greater sense of concern and anxiety. Add to that the extended period of becoming an independent adult (emerging adulthood), and there is a ready and hungry market for Seligno’s perspective.

At the heart of the book is a survey of students that gives Seligno data for an interesting argument. He proposes that there are three generalized “types” of college students: sprinters, wanderers and stragglers. Sprinters know what they want out of college, and career, and they focus their efforts. Wanderers change their mind. They explore and their path is longer and more circuitous. Stragglers start, stop, and start again. The groupings make sense, but only in  a constrained understanding of college students. Seligno’s focus is on middle and upper middle class college students who enroll mostly right after high school, often in a residential four-year institution of higher education.

From these groupings, Seligno’s book covers a lot of ground. He makes suggestions about curricula, majors and programs. He emphasizes the value of thoughtful networking, authentic experiential learning experiences, internships, and career preparation. The perspective of employers and recruiters fleshes out the text. The information is not presented as a formal plan. Instead, Seligno illustrates and provides examples.

The end of the book is geared more for educators, as Seligno explores kinds of educational structures and imagines potential future reforms. However, his real interest is not in changing higher education. It is in giving students and their families information and advice so that they can make more informed and effective choices. He wants to see graduates find their ways to successful careers.

I do not know if There Is Life After College will change many hearts and minds. It is not the kind of book that leads to deep argumentation or profound reflection by students, their families or educators. It is a practical book. It is accessible, well-written, and chock full of enough ideas and anecdotes that  could foster discussion and consideration. If Seligno is effective in that, he has done us all a valuable  service.

David Potash

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