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St. Lawrence University boasts rising job and grad school placement rate

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CANTON — Many parents warn their children that pursuing a liberal arts degree in college might lead to a life of unemployment lines, digging ditches or flipping burgers — but one north country liberal arts university is proving the naysayers wrong.

More than 95 percent of St. Lawrence University’s class of 2011 found jobs or entered a graduate studies program after completing their degree, according to recent self-published statistics in the Follow-up Survey for the Class of 2011.

The numbers suggest employers are looking for well-rounded new workers, said Carol L.G. Bate, St. Lawrence’s assistant dean of student life and director of career services.

“It is the liberal arts foundation, strong research and writing and oral communication skills that serve our students and eventually propel them to leadership positions,” she said. “We’re educating students for lifelong successful careers.”

Almost 78 percent of St. Lawrence graduates entered the work force.

Ms. Bate said the numbers were an increase from recent years. The school had its highest placement rate, 97.4 percent, in 2007, then saw numbers decline during the recession of 2008 and 2009 to a low of 93.2 percent for the class of 2009.

Ms. Bate attributed the increased placement to a rosier economic outlook. The university’s placement statistics match the October 2009 peak of national unemployment numbers at 10 percent, and their subsequent slow decline over the past three years to 7.8 percent in September.

The turnaround in placement rates also might be attributed to programs designed to give students a head start in their careers.

Mentored research, in which undergraduates partner with faculty, prepares students for life after graduation, Ms. Bate said. “Experiential learning is becoming a greater piece of our curriculum,” she said. “I think it is highly market-driven. Employers have expectations that students have practical experience in professional settings.”

Students also were finding more jobs through networking, possibly because of internship opportunities offered through career services, Ms. Bate said.

“We are very fortunate because we have an incredible alumni network and alumni base,” she said. “That group of enthusiastic alums is very supportive of our students.

The study also shows fewer St. Lawrence graduates choosing to continue their education, meaning more enter the work force directly after completing a bachelor’s degree. A total of 16.7 percent of the class of 2011 entered graduate school, down from 19.6 percent in 2010. The nature of the students’ employment is not recorded, so there is no distinction between someone working in his field or one digging ditches — or flipping burgers, for that matter.

In a July article, The Chronicle of Higher Education questioned the accuracy of placement rate numbers posted by universities because of the low response rates and inconsistent methodologies, making them difficult to compare.

St. Lawrence’s last two graduate surveys boast a response rate greater than 75 percent and were both conducted over a three-month period, from December 2011 to March, adding credibility to the statistics.

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