Do Universities have a responsibility to prepare students for the work force?
If so, employers don’t necessarily believe that we are succeeding.
In a survey recently conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace, nearly a third of the employers surveyed said colleges did a fair to poor job of producing successful employees. These employers look for basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems, but feel that many graduates lack these skills.
Comments to the Chronicle article reporting these findings suggest that not all faculty believe that preparing students for the workforce should be the responsibility of higher education. This so-called “vocational training,” they believe, should be the responsibility of the businesses that hire graduates.
But there are also many professors in the liberal arts and sciences who welcome the task of preparing students for a lifetime of solving complex problems, critical thinking, and effective communication. One commented in response to this survey,
“I teach English at a small liberal arts college. I give my students assignments that involve solving problems and constructing and communicating knowledge. The challenge is getting students to transfer those skills to problems outside the classroom. I don’t blame students for not making this transfer on their own, but I’d like to know how to help them do it.”
The “transfer” problem is one that has bedeviled educators for many years. That is why at the iSchool we believe that immersive, work-based learning, properly supervised by faculty, is the best way to help students acquire the cognitive and non-cognitive skills necessary for success in career, citizenship, and life. As Dewey suggested, real life and real work provide the most fertile ground for education. When all learning is grounded in the student’s actual experience, the transfer problem goes away. Employers who participate in this partnership with higher education will no longer have to worry about the preparation of graduates for the workforce.