I was 18 years old and standing in line for my high school diploma. It was graduation night and I was standing next to one of my friends, Tim. I’ll never forget the moment when Earl G. got his diploma and the stands erupted with cheers and clapping. Earl may now be a fine member of whatever community he ended up in, but back then he was a bully… a very popular bully. He spent more time in detention than class. At one moment he would be hitting your books out of your hand and in the next moment trying to stuff you into your locker. He was a “model” student.
Yet here he was getting more applause than everyone else combined up to that point. I turned to Tim and said, “wow, I wish I got that sort of attention.” Tim, who looked a lot like Paul Pfeiffer from the Wonder Years, stared at me in that “you just don’t get it” sort of way. Finally he opens his mouth and says, “For some people this will be the biggest night of their entire lives. That’s high school.”
That’s sort of how I feel about PC CAPS.
PC CAPS, for those who haven’t heard of it, is a three year old program that enables students to get real-world experience. Students work on a specified project for a company — and often in teams. It is a program that is adapted from a similar program called Blue Valley CAPS, in Overland Park, Kansas. To be completely fair, the program was awarded a STEM Excellence award earlier this year, so it is doing something right.
Yet, I wonder what it really does for kids and at what cost. According the PC CAPS website it says, “At PCCAPS our goal is to fast-forward students over college into their area of professional interest by giving them real-world project experience for real companies.” That seems to imply that somehow this program is going to be useful in getting a job after college. Imagine an 18 year old working on a marketing campaign for a local company or even go bigger and imagine them doing that for a company like Adobe or EBay (in Salt Lake). When they graduate from college 5 years later will they even remember what they did on that project? More importantly would a recruiter from a company like Proctor and Gamble, or Nationwide Insurance, or Facebook, or Google care what someone did in high school?
That takes me back to my quote from my friend Tim. Those people who live in high school, mainly administrators, probably place a higher value on this program than anyone else. You also look at other factors a post-college recruiter may look at. If a college graduate actually put this on their resume and a recruiter actually asked about it, what questions might she ask?
- “Tell me about the project.” You are going to describe how you worked in teams and with a real company to do something. My response would be that if you haven’t done a ton of that in your 5 years in college, you aren’t even going to get that job interview.
- “How did you get this internship?” Yes, they will call it an internship, because that’s what it seems like. You’ll respond that you took a course and they found a job match for you. Would you have been better off hitting the pavement and trying to get that internship with Overstock.com on your own? It would be a better story to tell.
- “Did you work onsite at the company with professionals”. You would answer, well usually we worked in the school library and our mentors would come there. That’s going to seem even more like it’s just another high school class to a recruiter.
Those questions could go on and on. The point is that if you are going to college, you’ll get most of these experiences during your tenure there. You also will want to actually talk about those and not what you did when you were in high school.
So, what’s PC CAPS good for? The best use it probably to try to help get into college and there could be merit there. PC CAPS could give students something to write about in an essay. It might also give them a recommendation from a person they worked with on a project. However, those things are probably possible to get through working a traditional internship as well.
The question is whether that is spending money wisely. To accomplish that goal they’ve been renting out space for the program and now are spending up to $200,000 to renovate the high school’s library for the program to make a temporary home. When they rebuild the high school they will construct space for the program. Budgets have been running about $450,000 per year and they need to add another partial FTE to the program. That’s real money being spent that could be used on more teachers, smaller classroom sizes, etc.
Instead, in my view, the money is being used a “neat” program that is probably a lot of fun but may be questionable value. In a few years I could be proven wrong. There could be students who comes back and says that PC CAPS got them their jobs at Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft and the PROGRAM MUST CONTINUE. I’ll believe that when I see it.
If you have a few minutes, I would recommend listening to this Bloomberg Radio interview with a well known author and recruiter. It was eye opening for me. Who would have known being a taxi driver may help you get a better job than having a string of college internships.