We Can Improve Graduate Employability Without Rebooting All of Higher Ed

Are college graduates prepared for the modern workforce, and whose fault is it if they aren’t? A recent Inside Higher Ed article provided a possible solution to this question in the form of non-college programs–underfunded and incoherently structured of late–that could provide a track for students for whom four year college degrees are not the answer.

In a broad sense, and certainly within the political arena, there is some truth to all of this. Colleges are loathe to identify their top priority as churning out workers for the labor force, and metrics like graduate employment and earning power are not without controversy. At the same time, vocational training and apprenticeships seem to be one of the few topics able to generate bipartisan support, even if the amount of funding and logistics are still hotly contested.

However, this viewpoint ignores some of the low-hanging fruit: business leaders are asking for critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and information literacy, subject areas higher ed should have no qualms about providing to the vast majority of their students.

Additionally, as we learned from our recent webinar with Dr. Sean Gallagher of Northeastern University, what’s being taught is not the thing to consider. We also have to think about how we represent what students have learned, and so in addition to boosting critical thinking instruction, higher ed also must modernize transcripts so employers can identify qualified candidates.

A fascinating study from the Rockefeller Foundation and Edelman Intelligence found that 69% of employers require a college degree for entry-level positions, to the detriment of their own talent pool in large part because they aren’t sure how else to screen applicants. 

The debate over how much higher ed should evolve curricula to suit the needs of the business community will likely continue for as long as colleges and businesses exist. But there is no debate on whether we should teach critical thinking in college. In fact, this is almost universally accepted as a desired outcome, despite the fact that consistent, campus-wide attempts to provide this instruction are few and far between. It is also beyond debate that higher ed should accurately represent what its students have learned while pursuing their degrees.