Out of every 100 students, 22 will drop out, 12 won’t have a four-year degree in six years, 3 will only earn an associate degree, 28 will graduate but be underemployed. Just 35 of 100 will reach the goal of having a degree and a job that requires it by the age of 27. This is all according to a research partner of universities, EAB, a stellar organization in my humble opinion.
If this is all true, then 65 of 100 students do not reach the ultimate goal. That is an abysmal success rate on any scale. This qualifies as an educational crisis, don’t you think?
We all have assumptions about the reasons students don’t finish college and get an appropriate or good job. Most of my assumptions were overturned when I learned that the EAB’s in-depth analysis of the demographics, ethnicity, family income, and gender did not appear in the top ten factors predicting failure and success. But four of the things that do predict successful completion have to do with the experience of students while in college. That means that once students get to college, what they do there determines whether they get a degree.
So, the next question has to be: Why are so many failing if it has so much to do with the college experience itself?
Colleges and universities are failing our students by clinging to curricular and co-curricular structures that do not take into account who our students are and what the world of work needs and values.
The curricula and scaffolding aren’t responding nimbly enough to the changing nature of our student body and the needs of the world outside of the academy.
What can higher education do to help fix this?
1.DEVELOP CURRICULA THAT ARE RESPONSIVE TO THE WORLD WE LIVE IN: It might be best if we got rid of the current departmental and budgetary structures altogether and started over. I know, that’s blasphemy, and it’s not going to happen, so we need to infuse the college experience with opportunities for entrepreneurialism, teamwork and collaboration, leadership, digital technology education, and all the other things that we know that students to succeed. Colleges need to pay attention to the skills and experiences that are important for career readiness according to extensive research done by NACE. This image of the NACE 7 core competencies from the University of Connecticut sums it up beautifully.
2. ARTICULATION OF VALUES: Ensure students have frequent opportunities to define their guiding principles. This is a purpose-driven generation, in the main. Students want to know that their energy is being expended in ways that have a positive impact. But how can they prepare for a career that means something to them and the planet if they do not know what their values are, which are in flux throughout their years in college? Frequent advising conversations can help fix this, and advisors must be highly trained and attuned to the changing external environment.3. TRANSLATE VALUES TO WORLD OF WORK: Aside from articulating what’s important to them, students need help translating those into ideas for professional engagement. How can they know what sort of career to prepare for if they don’t know how to translate their values into the the language and concepts used in the professional world? Ensuring students have multiple opportunities to discover the best possibilities for them as individuals requires extensive career development conversations and workshops.
4. PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT: Once they know what gets them up in the morning and what their future professions might be, students must have multiple opportunities to connect with people in those areas of work. We know that 80% of jobs are on the so-called “hidden job market,” and that 80% of openings are filled via word of mouth. This means colleges must work constantly and assiduously to bring employers and alumni onto campus to talk with students both one-on-one and in groups. We know that students no longer flock to career fairs, so we need to experiment with new formats that are productive for everyone involved. We also must teach students the art of the informational interview.
5. RADICAL AND DISRUPTIVE COLLABORATION: Finally, colleges and universities must open their doors more than ever to innovative collaborations with for-profit, non-profit and governmental agencies that provide students with meaningful work experiences while in college.
In my next post, I will talk about what corporations can and what students should do to help improve this abysmal success rate.