The students you recruit now will be mid-career by 2040. With all the focus students and parents are putting on outcomes, I’m a little worried about what the workforce will look like. Some days it feels as if it will be wall-to-wall physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and accountants. (Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be of an age where I will appreciate a fully-staffed and fiscally sound medical facility, still…)

I try to picture a decision-making table that’s surrounded by pragmatic, results-oriented people. People who want the blueprint, the algorithm, or the established protocol. And only the established protocol. A consensus that excludes the “what ifs” and the “there’s got to be a better way” sidetracks. Managers who have not wondered, challenged, or ever strayed far from the assured path.

What a chilling effect that would have on even the smallest of innovations and risks. Is it really where we’re heading?

A Major Missing Link

Your major becomes your career becomes your ability to succeed—that’s the logic. Students and parents continue to link major to career to personal success in this tightly welded, but little reasoned, chain of imagined cause and effect. Yet according to the Council of Independent Colleges, nearly all employers (93 percent) in a 2013 Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) survey agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”

Not to mention that a career is a long time, and for most of us, it never does run true. We change jobs. We change careers. And millennials more than most. So why does this latter batch of millennials seem obsessed with “career outcomes,” even though, as a generation (according to Pew research), they don’t embrace “a high-paying career” as the definition of success? Is it their personal anxiety, coming of age in a recession? Or is it a reflected anxiety from midlife parents who hope their children can have more predictable careers?

Or is it just common sense? (I majored in creative writing, so that might be all you need to know about my level of “common” sense.)

Pragmatic Idealists in Action

I don’t really believe this generation will turn into the lockstep unimaginative drudges I pictured in the opening. They seem inventive, pragmatic, and exceptionally well-equipped to tackle the thorniest problems. Which underscores the oddity of this iron-bound link from major to career to personal success.

Unless they’re just being pragmatic about future jobs and giving themselves useful skills that will leave them free to do interesting and innovative things between gigs. Now that sounds like them.

Help Them Wander Usefully

I just hope they don’t rush in too straight a line to the end goal. Eighty percent of those employers surveyed by the AACU believe that regardless of major, “every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.” Wandering a little now will pay off in the long run—for all of us who will be subject to their decision making skills, creativity, and empathy in 2040.

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