Colleges need to get more comfortable with integrating students into the working world, Mr. Gardner says. Otherwise, when they make the transition to the job market, “they just won’t have the experience, and they will wander in the wasteland for a couple of years until they put stuff together. That is cruel.”

Of course, some colleges have made real-world experiences integral to the college experience—like the co-op programs of Drexel University and Northeastern University, or the community engagement of sustainability-oriented institutions like Green Mountain College and the College of the Atlantic. But at many institutions, opportunities for real-world work seem limited, particularly for students majoring in open-ended liberal-arts programs like literature, history, and philosophy.