3 ways to align your academic programs to the job market, from Gallup

Kristin Tyndall, editor
Kristin Tyndall, editor

In a recent blog post for Gallup, Jaimie Francis, a director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Center for Education and Workforce, and Zac Auter, a consulting analyst at Gallup, recommend ways for colleges and universities to keep up with the job market.

Francis and Auter cite research from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation showing that higher education leaders and employers have radically different opinions on new grads' preparation for the workforce. While 96% of chief academic officers believe their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students, only 11% of employers agree.

The authors argue there's an urgent need for higher education to better align itself with the labor market to start closing these gaps between what students learn and what they need to know. Francis and Auter recommend three ways for colleges and universities to ensure their programs are preparing students for career success. These are shared below, along with a few examples I rounded up of how colleges have implemented similar strategies.

1. Experiential learning

The authors cite previous Gallup research showing that students who have an internship are more likely to find full-time employment after college and more likely to feel engaged in their work. But Francis and Auter argue that colleges should also find ways to embed more experiential learning into classroom experiences.

Colleges are finding ways to integrate more skill building into traditional courses. For example, in her Shakespeare class at Smith College, Provost and Dean of Faculty Katherine Rowe Rowe asks students to use data science and analytics techniques to chart, quantify, and analyze Shakespearean vocabulary as it appears in today's dictionaries.

In another example, the English Department at Susquehanna University saw enrollment rise by 80% over two years after incorporating more professional development into the program. One of the changes they made was adding a practicum course taught by a professional-in-residence.

Read more about how Susquehanna boosted English enrollment by 80% in 2 years

2. Employer partnerships

Francis and Auter write that many career services departments are missing out on a major opportunity in the form of employer partnerships. They argue that this may contribute to the fact that only 16% of students who visit career services rate the experience as "very helpful," according to Gallup research.

Employer partnerships can help career services offices stay up-to-date about the "last mile" skills that will make the critical difference between a new grad being qualified for a job—and merely almost qualified. For example, data from Burning Glass suggests that when liberal arts students add one word to their resumes—"digital"—they double the number of job openings they qualify for.

Learn more: 3 examples of high-impact employer partnerships

3. More information for students… and colleges

A recent survey by by Gallup and nonprofit Strada Education Network found that 51% of adults regret a major decision they made about college: their area of study, level of education, or institution attended. Francis and Auter argue that students need more information about career outcomes and pathways.

One institution working to close this information gap is Queen's University in Ontario, which has developed a new type of major map that lists potential careers for each major and identifies curricular and co-curricular experiences that can help students prepare for those careers. Around 95% of students at Queen's say the map helps them understand the skills and careers associated with academic programs.

But in order to pass such information along to students, schools need to stay up-to-date with the job market: Which careers are growing and which are fading? What skills are employers looking for? What's the biggest skills gap in your region?

See the hottest jobs, skills, and employers in your state

This is another area where industry partners can be helpful, Scott Rhodes argued in a recent article for eCampusNews. Industry professionals can provide updates about what they need from future graduates and work alongside students to teach them the latest practices in the field (Francis/Auter, Gallup, 6/20).

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