Bay Path is turning 125 years old next year, and we’re in the midst of ramping up for an exciting celebration tracing our growth and defining our goals for the coming years. As I’m immersing myself in Bay Path’s history, I’m repeatedly struck by the uniqueness of our school and the long, unwavering consistency of our mission: career-focused education.
Of course, to evolve with the times and to meet the needs of our diverse population, which today includes traditional on-campus students, adult online learners and graduate students, we’ve had to continually update our practices and programs and the ways we deliver them. For the past 20 plus years, we’ve been investing in and successfully applying predictive analytics, virtual learning platforms and a comprehensive suite of student support services that cover advising, orientation, emergency financial support, clubs and activities, and health and wellness programs.
As we continue to refine our model and enhance our mission, we’re acknowledging that the most valuable career-focused learning can only happen through close partnerships between higher education and employers. But, as more and more colleges and universities build partnerships with businesses, how can Bay Path translate 125 years of a career-focused, supportive educational model into this increasingly crowded space? What is it about our distinct mission, experience and perspective that optimally positions us as ideal partners for businesses, and for students?
First, in addition to partnering with employers, we must build close and trusted partnerships with our students. In order to provide the most immediate, relevant and useful support, we must know each and every student on the very first day they begin their Bay Path education, whether they are traditional undergraduates, online students of The American Women’s College or graduate students.
We need to know them deeply and personally so that we can work together to intentionally plan their education, recognize opportunities, accrue skills and knowledge, and most importantly, let them know that help is always available.
Because our students are bringing such a broad range of backgrounds and experiences to their education, it’s essential that we have staff and faculty they can connect with and relate to. We prioritize diversity in order to support our students. By the same token, today’s workforce is an increasingly multicultural environment, which depends upon a wide range of voices and perspectives for effective collaboration and problem-solving. To position our students to thrive professionally, we need to mirror the workplace cultures they will be a part of.
Second, as an institution committed to providing a career-focused education, we know internships are critically important experiential learning opportunities, and they must be embedded into all of our programs. Beyond educational benefits, internships give students the chance to meet influential contacts and make connections that can help shape their careers, starting at the entry-level and reverberating throughout their working lives. This is a crucial equity issue, especially for first-generation and low-income students, who typically lack access to networks and mentors, and the insight those relationships can provide.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 66% of college graduates who did a paid internship received a job offer, compared to just 43.7% of unpaid interns. Graduating with a paid internship makes a student 34% more likely to receive a job offer! But while first-generation students make up 56% of college students, they represent only 19% of paid interns.
Bay Path is a relentless innovator and a force for equity. Given these statistics, we need to make sure that every single Bay Path student does at least one internship, and that they get paid for it. But we know that for many of our students, even if the money to do an internship is there, the time is not.
Therefore, thirdly, we’re committed to expanding the notion of the internship and creating and delivering paid “experiential learning opportunities” for all of our students, whether they are on-campus or online. Using emergent technologies, we can provide students with access to “micro-internships,” virtual projects shared by employers in an expanding marketplace-style platform. Our instructors and professors, many of whom are working professionals, have the expertise to thoughtfully incorporate these projects into their curricula and guide students to gain the specific skills employers need them to have.
At the heart of all these approaches and ideas is the fact that we’re a women’s college, and our commitment to women’s success goes far beyond teaching a checklist of competencies. We know the power of the women’s college experience lies in the community, support, and confidence woven into the coursework, discussion groups, advising, mentoring and resources students receive at Bay Path and The American Women’s College.
As we map out the next 125 years of innovative, high-impact education, we have the tools and experience, but most importantly, the passion to offer a college experience that’s not merely “career-focused.” Today’s Bay Path is boldly, unapologetically career-driven, just like our students.