Stemming “Graduation Relocation”

Moving on –literally– is mantra of 21st century graduates

BY KATHY KAHN

(Left to right): Aimee Vargas (Mid-Hudson Region-Empire State Development), Marsha Gordon (Business Council of Westchester), Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt (Children’s Media Project), Judy Mills (Mediacom) and Al Samuels (Rockland Business Assn.)  discuss creation of more internships and job opportunities for the region’s college students and graduates.
(Left to right): Aimee Vargas (Mid-Hudson Region-Empire State Development), Marsha Gordon (Business Council of Westchester), Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt (Children’s Media Project), Judy Mills (Mediacom) and Al Samuels (Rockland Business Assn.) discuss creation of more internships and job opportunities for the region’s college students and graduates.

Educators in the halls of higher learning aren’t living in ivory towers—more than ever, they are aware good relations with the business and non-profit community are essential.

A bevy of private college CEOs from across the mid-Hudson gathered at Mt. St. Mary College on August 19 to learn how economic leaders need their input to keep graduates from migrating out of state once they cross the finish line.

According to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities’ 2011 report, New York’s 100 private colleges economic contribution was $63.2 billion, with the Mid-Hudson putting in $4.3 billion to the total.

Factor in more than $460 million in student and visitor spending and another $676 million in medical care spent by this group locally, and you’ve a pretty good picture of what private colleges in Rockland, Orange, Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess do to keep the region’s economy humming—whether it’s a night out at Levity Live in the Palisades Center or a visit to Good Samaritan’s emergency room.

Fast forward to 2012-2013 school year, and the picture isn’t quite as rosy. With student loans passing the $1 trillion mark and the federal government tying those loans to the stock market, private colleges now project the number of new students in decline, NYS Leg. James Skoufis told the audience.

“There’s been a 270 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index over the past 30 years, and a 1,120 percent increase in tuition costs during that same period,” said Skoufis, “making it especially difficult for people of lesser means to continue their education.”

A panel discussion moderated by Aimee Vargas, director of mid-Hudson Empire State Development, discussed ways colleges and businesses can do to create meaningful internships and good jobs that will make staying in New York an attractive proposition to graduates.

Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, executive director of Children’s Media Project in Poughkeepsie; Marsha Gordon, president of The Business Council of Westchester; Judith Mills, vice president of Mediacom’s corporate Human Resources department; and Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association, gave their take on how colleges and employers can work together. All four organizations offer internship opportunities.

Mediacom’s paid internship program has dozens of students participating across the country—including in its new Blooming Grove facility. “Our goal is to keep them engaged and have they come back to us after graduation,” said Mills. “And we don’t expect each one will be a tech expert—we have job openings in all departments and offer internships in all categories.”

Mills said her biggest challenge was grooming interns for the business world, from dressing appropriately for work, refraining from using informal “text” talk when writing letters or sending e-mails—she noted some are clueless when it comes to managing their money or handling a checkbook. “Teaching them to shake hands and look the person they are talking to in the eye is also a new learning experience for many of our interns,” added the HR executive.

Marsha Gordon said companies must also learn to adjust. “I learned the hard way—we had an excellent intern we wanted to staff—he wanted to do some work from his home, and I wasn’t comfortable with that—as a result, we lost him…and I learned a valuable lesson about being flexible.” Gordon also said some colleges never follow up on the intern that’s been sent to them. “I think it’s important for the college and the student to know how they are faring.”

Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, director of the Children’s Media Project in Poughkeepsie, says Vassar College has been an excellent internship partner. “The school checks to see how students are doing…at the end of the summer, we have a ceremony for the interns acknowledging their contribution. One of our goals is to connect them with the community—the more connected they are, the more likely they are to stay and become part of it once they graduate.”

Amanda Dana, business retention director for the Orange County Partnership, told the panel and college presidents in the audience, “Universities need to get more involved with high schools and focus on students’ needs before they graduate.”

Samuels agreed: “The RBA has formed an educational task force which will start up in September to work with small businesses to create internship opportunities. We also need to put a greater emphasis on what BOCES has to offer at the high school level.”