JESSE SEERING, A JUNIOR STUDYING construction management at University of Wisconsin-Stout, wants to break into the building business when he graduates. Unlike most students years ago, though, he's not looking to the commercial construction sector for cachet and a fat salary. The fact is, Seering hopes to start out as an assistant job supervisor in residential construction. At the moment, he has his hopes set on a position at Pulte because of the array of opportunities the international builder has to offer.

“Thinking globally is something that I respect,” Seering says. “Pulte does work all over the nation as well as in Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Mexico. I have a desire to increase my Spanish skills as well as work for someone who specializes in building lots near resorts or golf courses. Working for a big builder, there is a chance to move up in the company, move around the country, and possibly the world.”

Often regarded by undergraduates and academics alike as “plan B” for those who didn't place into high-voltage commercial building careers, residential construction is picking up buzz and stature among college students and their career advisers. Big home builders have suddenly morphed their business personas from mega contractors to Fortune and Forbes power players, and with regional, national, and even global breadth.

With opportunities for highly lucrative careers, more students are taking notice—and not a moment too soon. With warp-speed growth expectations, builders will be pressured to cultivate bench strength from the talent coming out of the nation's undergraduate and graduate institutions. As they attempt to swell their ranks, new hires will need a critical skill set: the ability to take the pressures of both the jobsite and the boardroom with equal poise and equanimity.

Still, residential builders have to overcome their career legacy as “back-up choice” to secure the services of the top students for $40,000 to $50,000 entry-level positions such as project and/or process engineers, construction engineers, or assistant job supervisors. So, for insight into the nation's education programs and their offerings, BIG BUILDER has assembled details on a cross-section of construction colleges across the country. We started by creating a 16-question eSurvey, designed and hosted by our marketing research partner Eliant, and sent it to 73 known construction schools in an effort to mine information that could enhance recruiting efforts. The survey targeted schools offering four-year degrees with a residential focus.

A total of 24 schools completed surveys. Some others, who chose not to fill out the survey, also provided a modicum of feedback. To provide greater detail on the largest programs, we have created mini-profiles of each school with a student enrollment of 300 or more. (Survey results are listed above; mini-profiles begin on page 51.) In an effort to give builders an idea of the skill sets and skill levels students possess, typical job titles of graduates are included when possible.

Building Strong Ties Even as big builders work to develop better ties to universities, students are becoming more interested in home building—though biases toward commercial building remain strong.

“When our students go out and do internships with large residential builders and then come back and talk about the great experiences that they have had, it generates excitement in all of the students,” says Brian Blaylock, head of the Construction College department at BYU-Idaho.

“I think that large home builders have done a lot to help change this view [of home building taking a back seat to commercial construction], but it is a slow process, especially when you are dealing with long-entrenched ideals and beliefs.”

Blaylock and others say that builders still have some room for improvement when it comes to campus recruiting techniques. The primary focus, says Blaylock, should be presenting long-term opportunities. “The students need to know not just what the starting positions are, but also what are some of the possibilities for advancement and what are their expectations for promotion and what can they aspire to,” he says.