DePauw’s University’s Gold Commitment program, which began in 2018, is coming to an end due to lack of student interest, according to the program’s director.
The Gold Commitment is an initiative DePauw’s administrators implemented in the Fall semester of 2018 that seeks to guarantee 100 percent employment for all graduates. This idea was not unprecedented after a handful of institutions deployed similar programs nationwide.
DePauw’s Commitment tracks students’ progress on fulfilling specific requirements to take advantage of the benefits., and was placed into effect under former DePauw University President D. Mark McCoy. If these requirements are completed, students who do not have a job, graduate program or fellowship lined up by six months after graduation are guaranteed either an on-campus job or a tuition-free semester at the university.
Because it was put into effect in 2018, this Spring will include DePauw’s first Gold Commitment graduates. Administration expected an enthusiastic reaction from the student body, but the participation was lower than anticipated.
According to the current director of the Gold Commitment program, Scott Spiegelberg, 15 students in this year's graduating class have fulfilled the requirements to take advantage of the benefits.
That’s 2.5% of this year’s 591 graduates.
“So that's a sign that while everybody's expecting us to continue providing professional development opportunities for students, wrapping it under an umbrella called ‘Gold Commitment’ is not the way to go,” Spiegelberg said.
“To best get them to where they want to be, it will be six months after graduation where we would know for sure students would need that support of either a job or extra semester of tuition. But, I can say right now one of the 15 already has a job lined up,” he added.
According to the Gold Commitment tab under DePauw’s official website, the requirements for the Gold Commitment fall under three different categories, each of which must be tracked and completed prior to graduation:
The first category is the academic portfolio where students are expected to fulfill curricular requirements and graduate on time.
The second category is the experience portfolio where students are expected to complete one ‘Bridge Reflection’ explaining the intersectionality of their liberal arts education and outside experience.
Finally, there is the Good Community Citizen requirement. This means those who are in good standing with the University, are free of criminal conviction, and have paid their financial shares are allowed to partake in the Gold Commitment promises.
Despite the requirements students are encouraged to complete, Spiegelberg says, “[The University’s] goal certainly is none of them will need to actually rely upon the Commitment, that they'll get into grad schools that they want, or get the jobs that they're looking for.
“It’s kind of weird because I’d think that if you’re doing all [the requirements], you would probably have a job lined up anyway, or at least have the ability to move yourself up to a job at whatever company,” said first-year student Maia Casterline. “I would think with all the internship opportunities and whatnot at DePauw that nobody would have to go through with the Gold Commitment.”
“They have all these extra things for something you hopefully don’t have to do. Nobody really wants an extra semester after they should have graduated,” she added.
First-year student Andrew Morton said, “Just because it's five percent of people without jobs doesn't mean they aren't people... it's a rough world and it's really hard to get grounded,” he said, “If it can help at least one person, I feel like it's worth trying to do.”
At the same time, Morton added, “There's no way I could know in four years if I'm going to have a job or not, and so it's weird for that knowledge to be expected.”
Senior Neuroscience major Autumn McDaniel is one of the 15 seniors who has fulfilled the Gold Commitment requirements and has a job lined up.
“I feel like I didn't really go out of my way to fulfill any of the requirements or the events,” she said. “They counted toward my classes anyway, so it wasn't too hard.”
She even found the resume writing classes and personal statement workshops to be helpful during her years at DePauw.
“I knew what I had heard of the Gold Commitment, but it wasn't a reason why I came to DePauw. I didn't really fully know what it was when I got here,” she said. She kept up with the requirements anyway, even without fully understanding what it was all for.
The lack of clear expectations and outcomes of the Gold Commitment was confusing from the beginning, according to religious studies professor Jeff Kenney who submitted an opinion piece to The DePauw in 2018 after the Gold Commitment was born.
“The longer students are confused about the [requirements to fulfill] the program, the longer students will remain in the program…and the longer the administration can portray the Gold Commitment as a success story,” he wrote.
Three years later, Kenney maintains similar criticisms of the administration's founding of the Gold Commitment program.
“The students were co-opted in and they weren't given a choice. They were automatically in the program. Then, they had to actively decommission themselves, either by stating ‘I don't want to be in it,’ or by simply not fulfilling the obligations,” Kenney added.
“So it is kind of interesting that only 15 out of a class of  were inducted into this automatically. It would be interesting to know what the stats are over how long it took for it to get down to 15,” he said.
In 2019, The DePauw released data on the first-year engagement with Gold Commitment programs. In the Gold Commitment’s first three semesters, students began to fall off the track as their first few months of college progressed.
In the Spring semester of 2019, “91% [of first years] had had one or more meetings with their Commitment advisor this year; 97% of first-years attended the Introduction to the Hubbard Center session in the first semester; 87% attended an internship workshop; 70% attended an exploratory fair; and 53.5% have had their resume reviewed and uploaded it to Handshake”
While we are yet to see the first generation of Gold Commitment graduates complete their education at DePauw, Spiegelberg insists that the University will be prepared, despite the pandemic. “We've budgeted out what would be necessary… to support students who will utilize the promises made,” he said.
Kenney noted the University marketed the Gold Commitment Program heavily via social media, admissions advice, and free t-shirts. He also noted DePauw’s high job placement rate was enough to draw new students to campus and the Gold Commitment sent the wrong message.
“One could argue [the Gold Commitment] made us unique and special in a negative way that we had to stoop to that kind of promise to bring people in and I don't think we did,” he said. “If we have something and it's positive, we should sell it, but I don't think that was selling DePauw; that was selling a gimmick.”
Whether or not DePauw has the means to comfortably keep the promise they’ve made to the next four graduating classes is yet to be determined.
“It's like we were cheapening ourselves... If you want to sell the liberal arts, let's sell the liberal arts. Let’s not make it a gimmick we know is going to work because we'll guarantee you a job,” Kenney said.