During the New England Board of Higher Education’s (NEBHE) 2016 conference “Talent 4.0: How Employable Are New England’s College Graduates and What Can Higher Education Do About It?,” 300 experts in higher education, employment and workforce development gathered to discuss the ways in which colleges and universities can best prepare their students for employability.

CampusTap has organized important insights from selected NEBHE presentations to provide new outlooks for higher education professionals that are similarly looking to advance professional development strategies and improve learning outcomes at their own institutions.

Effective Career Education Through Credit & Non-Credit Experiences

University of Massachusetts Boston Dean of the College of Advancing and Professional Studies Philip DiSalvio who is known for developing retention, student success strategies and student learning outcomes — lead a session on experiential and work-integrated learning.

DiSalvio’s presentation largely highlighted the ways in which experiential learning integrates into professional development for students, dividing experiential learning opportunities into two areas — credit-bearing and non-credit bearing.

Credit-bearing experiential learning encompasses activities such as internships, co-ops, practicum and studying abroad. Non-credit bearing opportunities include mentoring, leadership development, life-work experiences, co-curricular learning and volunteering.

DiSalvio advances that combined workplace and classroom learning is the most effective approach for educating students. Additionally, he suggests that a balanced combination of credit-bearing and non-credit bearing experiential learning opportunities cultivate students that are the most employable and best prepared for the workforce.

Guided Pathways for Student Success

Community College System of New Hampshire Chancellor Ross Gittell has specialized in community and economic development and workforce education and training throughout his career. He’s taught at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics, the New School of Social Research and Harvard University before serving in his current role.

Gittell has previously advocated that stronger bridges between education and employment are highly influential of student success in the workforce. His NEBHE presentation centered on research that shows the highest success is seen in programs with guided pathways linked to jobs and careers.

The four areas of guided success include:

  • Connection — Giving students resources and information on academic and career pathways, and “Purpose First” identification of academic and career goals
  • Entry — Active advising, effective onboarding and require Academic Focus Areas (AFAs) selection
  • Progress — Program maps, effective remediation, strong gateway courses and encouragement of the 15 to Finish program.
  • Completion — Performance “scorecards,” and data and analysis to ensure continuous improvement and accountability

Gittell initiated a two-day Summer Guided Pathway Academy for more than 500 faculty and staff to develop and propose projects that develop more supportive student advising and onboarding.

Attendees ideated solutions such as determining seven broad areas of academic focus tied to careers and industries, a reduction of general education credits, increased program mapping and stronger guided pathways in programs with career linkages.

In the future, Community College System of New Hampshire’s goal is for every New Hampshire student to participate in a work-based learning experience. It’s also aiming to develop more industry partnerships and data-driven assessments for outcomes of guided pathways.

Over 80 percent of the attendees responded in a survey that the work and projects presented at Summer Guided Pathway Academy were useful or very useful to their own work and future planning.

Filling the Skills Gap with Applied Learning

American Association of Colleges and Universities President Lynn Pasquerella’s career has been marked by a “robust strategic planning process and a commitment to a vibrant campus community.”

Pasquerella’s discussion at NEBHE was based on findings from an Association of American Colleges and Universities survey of 400 employers and 613 college students. The main outcome of the survey states that a majority of employers believe that both specific knowledge and skills and broad knowledge and skills are required for students to achieve long-term career success.

Additionally, employers are largely in agreement that the most important learning outcomes for students include oral communication, working effectively with others in teams, written communication, ethical judgment and decision-making, critical and analytical thinking, and applying knowledge and skills to the real world.

Pasquerella also finds that only 23 percent of employers think that recent college graduates are very well prepared to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

However, 60 percent of employers believe that college students can significantly improve preparedness by completing an applied learning project before graduating. This can include a research project, collaborative project or similar experiential learning opportunity or specific problem-solving project that is integrated into their academics and completed over a semester or more in order to enhance real-world skills.

Ultimately, employers say they are more likely to consider hiring recent college graduates who have completed an applied learning or project-based learning experience. As evidence, students are 95 percent more likely to be hired after completing an internship or apprenticeship. Completing projects such a senior thesis or research project is agreed to improve employability as well.

Furthermore, in terms of student success and satisfaction in the workplace, graduates are 2.4 times as likely to be engaged at work if they completed an applied learning project in college.

NEBHE Main Takeaways

Exploring the insights, research and findings from DiSalvio, Gittel and Pasquerella, as well as the other NEBHE attendees further emphasizes how providing experiential learning opportunities and resources for career development are particularly impactful in students’ college educations as well as their success after graduation.

By understanding the skills gaps employers are noticing, the strategies that are influencing learning outcomes and the methods that have been proven to result in student success, institutions will be better able to develop graduates that are engaged in their work and prepared to thrive in their careers.

To learn how institutions are structuring industry & corporate-based networks to increase learning outcomes and workforce preparedness, download CampusTap’s E-book “Increasing Alumni Engagement Through Industry Networks.”



Image courtesy Women in Tech via Flickr