Provosts can change the stars on student work readiness (opinion)

Great doubts about college graduates’ willingness to work in higher education plagued long before the pandemic. Recent data from Within higher educationThe Student Voice survey made a good point about how much the pandemic is affecting efforts to improve it. Only 22 percent of students had virtual training or in-person training last year (less than half the 40 percent plus rate in typical years), which undoubtedly exacerbated work-readiness issues. Increasing employer partnerships and improving professional services will be part of the strategy going forward.

But in the end, it is the top academic officers who have the power to salvage the situation in terms of readiness to work for students.

Gallup’s research has shown that graduates are twice as likely to be involved in their work later if they had a job or internship during college where they applied what they were learning in class, and/or if they worked on a long-term project that took a semester or more to complete. Additionally, students who had an internship were twice as likely to have a good job waiting for them after graduation. Nothing moves the needle in job readiness more than internships linked to academic learning and long-term projects integrated into the curriculum. Both are in the field of academic affairs.

Colleges and universities that include career readiness as part of the academic core of their institution (as opposed to the causal aspect or afterthought) lead the way in career readiness and outcomes.

The 100-plus-year-old collaborative model embedded in the academic programming of institutions like Northeastern University, Drexel University, and the University of Cincinnati has made these institutions more desirable than ever with graduates, who are more likely to have multiple careers applying from absolutely nothing. Institutions that saw career and personal development as worthy of a rigorous academic curriculum – as Wake Forest University did – get the applause of students, parents, and the employer. Institutions that develop integrated work experiences across their curricula — such as Kenyon College and Concordia College — are reviving the liberal arts.

The career services function traditionally lives within the student affairs departments of most colleges and universities. However, over the past five years, it has become increasingly common to see professional services shift to academic affairs. Better alignment of professional services and academic affairs is an important step in the right direction. But purposeful intentions and policies are where the dean can make the greatest impact. Offering academic credit for internships and including work-like projects or integrated work across the curriculum has the potential to reach 100 percent of students with the most important experiences for their future career success.

Our problem today is not that colleges and universities do not offer training courses and project-based learning; is that this only happens to a small portion of the students. The Gallup-Purdue Index opened our eyes to this by revealing that less than a third of graduates had an internship where they applied what they were learning or took a class that included a semester-long project.

Institutions of higher education that expand these expertise will simply become the most successful institutions of the future. Senior academics have a wonderful opportunity to lead the way in ensuring that their institutions are intentional about readiness for action and that they put in place policies to promote this.

Allowing students to apply what they learn in the classroom and bring insights into the classroom through work and project-based experiences is a very effective pedagogical approach.

Internships and integrated projects at work do not distract from the core academic mission; Instead, they reinforce it. Allowing students to apply what they learn in the classroom and bring insights into the classroom through work and project-based experiences is a very effective pedagogical approach. Now is the time for university presidents to take advantage of the necessity and urgency to improve readiness for action.

As Bates College has made clear through its Meaningful Action initiative, it is possible to embrace classic liberal arts values ​​and ensure that students are specially prepared for jobs and careers. Employers strongly demonstrate this insight in what they look for in the types of graduates they seek to hire.

Yes, employers need to play a big role in offering more paid training experiences (virtual, in-person, micro, collaborative, etc.) on a large scale. But no leader – across all institutions – is better positioned to improve the talent development pipeline in the United States than top academics at colleges and universities.

If professors seize the opportunity, higher education will move from ever more uncertain to ever more in demand.

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