Employers: Grads aren’t prepared for work

Most employers say college graduates aren’t prepared for work, reports Bridge That Gap: Analyzing the Student Skill Index, a Chegg survey.  Half of college students said they felt very or completely prepared for work in their field of study. Thirty-nine percent of employers said recent graduates they’d interviewed were well-prepared.

Students overvalue their mastery of “business basics,” according to employers, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Those include “creating a budget or financial goal” and “writing to communicate ideas or explain information clearly” (each show a 22 percentage-point gap), and “organization” (25 percentage points). In the widest gap, at 27 percentage points, 77 percent of students but only half of hiring managers reported preparation for “prioritizing work.”

Students fared the best at “making a decision without having all the facts.” About 47 percent of students said they were prepared to do that, and 37 percent of hiring managers said the same of recent graduates.

More than 90 percent of hiring managers are looking for graduates who’ve shown initiative and leadership. They also look for extracurriculars, internships and work related to applicants’ field of study. Only a third of college graduates have spent time gaining experience in their field.

Chegg also looked at “Office Street Smarts” by asking five questions:

1. Can graduates make a persuasive argument to convince others to adopt their ideas?
2. Can they write to encourage action or make a specific request?
3. Were they able to communicate with authority figures and clients?
4. Can they collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds?
5. Can they complete a project as part of a team?

Again, students “have an over-inflated sense” of their communications and collaboration skills.

STEM graduates were “slightly better prepared” to explain information and solve problems through experimentation, employers said.

No math, no job

Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.

High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.

Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.

They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).

One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.

“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”

Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers  “doubt . . .  the so-called cure.”

Having students write about math isn’t a real cure.  Group work isn’t a cure.  Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute.  I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.

Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.

Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.

Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.

Collaboration means less remediation

Community colleges can reduce the need for remediation by collaborating with feeder high schools to prepare students, reports Inside Higher Ed. 

In California, Long Beach City College faculty worked with Long Beach Unified teachers to align high school and college courses. By using high school grades, not just placement tests, to decide who can start in college-level courses, LBCC dramatically lowered remediation rates.

For example, 53 percent of the group took transfer-level English courses in their first semester, while only 5.5 percent of students from the same high school district took the courses the previous year – meaning they were 10 times more likely to jump directly into credit-bearing English. And their passage rate of 62 percent was roughly the same as the college’s typical passage rate in English.

Fully 60 percent of the students in the program, which is dubbed “Promise Pathways,” placed into transfer-level English courses, compared to 11 percent of the college’s overall student population.

LBCC now places 31 percent of Promise Pathways students in college-level math, compared to 7 percent of students overall.

South Texas College, located near the U.S.-Mexican border, has works closely with high schools to prepare students for college.  Sixty-eight partner high schools offer dual enrollment programs, giving students a head start on an associate degree.

. . . the high school partnerships have helped drive down remedial placement rates to 17 percent, an extremely low number for a college that serves a largely lower-income, first-generation college population. The remedial placement rate has dropped by 45 percent since 2004, and Shirley A. Reed, the college’s president, credits dual enrollment as being a big part of that improvement.

“The high schools have accepted responsibility for college readiness,” Reed said. “Now we share in the responsibility.”

Preparing students for college success is the high schools’ job, write Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers in an Ed Week blog.

Apprenticeships: Old idea is new again

Apprenticeships are making a come back – and not just in trade union jobs –but only a third of today’s apprentices are community college students. Apprenticeship has spread from construction trades to “skilled occupations such as computer operator, machinist, dental laboratory technician, tool and dye maker, electronic technician” and more, reports Community College Times.

In Switzerland, Austria and Germany, apprenticeships provide training for more than half of young people. There and elsewhere, apprenticeships have been grown to include information technology, finance, advanced manufacturing, and maritime occupations. Germany has the oldest and best-known apprenticeship system. It offers programs leading to recognized qualifications in about 350 different occupations.

In the U.S., “apprenticeship programs offer an array of advantages over pure postsecondary education programs,”  concludes a Center for American Progress report by economist Robert I. Lerman.

“Since apprenticeship openings depend on employer demand, mismatches between skills taught and supplied and skills demanded in the work place are unusual. Apprenticeships provide workers with a full salary so that participants can earn while they acquire valued skills. Apprentices learn in the context of real work settings and attain not only occupational skills but other work-related skills, including communication, problem solving, allocating resources, and dealing with supervisors and a diverse set of coworkers.”

Community colleges can provide the academic instruction apprentices need, while employers provide the occupational training and workplace skills, Lerman writes.

Some community colleges are “slow to develop new courses that are required as new programs or new technologies in existing programs arise,” reports Community College Times. But there are a growing number of successful apprenticeship programs.

In Washington State, more than 200 students are learning the ironworking trade through apprenticeships run by the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a state-funded partnership among community colleges, industry and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The programs supply workers for Boeing Corp., the state’s largest employer.

South Carolina locates its major apprenticeship initiative, Apprenticeship Carolina, at its 16 technical colleges. The state-funded system is growing fast; since July 2007, the number of registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina has grown from 90 to 230. All 16 of the state’s technical colleges are participating in apprenticeship programs.

The Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program was started in the 1990s and has matured into the nation’s largest apprenticeship opportunity for high school students. Under the two-year program, high school juniors and seniors complete up to 900 hours of work-based learning and related courses. Many also earn college credits, and 70 percent go on to higher education.

Apprenticeship could be used to prepare young people for the growing number of “middle-skill jobs” that require some postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree.

Community colleges must lead the way

Thomas J. Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, wrote this op-ed after participating in the White House roundtable on containing college costs.

By Thomas J. Snyder

In the 1970s, I began what was three decades in the automotive industry. It was a good place to be at the time. U.S. automakers had enjoyed decades of growth and profitability, and it seemed like history would continue to repeat itself. Well, we all know what happened next. U.S. automakers grew somewhat complacent, seeming to take their good fortune for granted. As a result, concepts like competition, market share and customer service received little attention—and innovation consequently stalled.

Today, in my position as president of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, I see higher education confronted with some of these same challenges. We’ve enjoyed decades of success, and it’s tempting to continue down the same path. If we simply rely on past practices to move us forward, however, we’ll likely end up with some of the same struggles the U.S. auto industry was confronted with in the 1980s.

That prospect, of course, is unthinkable. As critical as the auto industry is to the U.S. economy, higher education plays an even more important role. It’s clear that we can no longer risk our future because we’re too indebted to the past.

This was my perspective earlier this week as I joined President Barack Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a small group of higher education leaders at the White House for a roundtable on affordability and productivity in America’s colleges and universities. I was honored to be the sole community college president to attend, and humbled to represent Ivy Tech’s world-class faculty and staff. Moreover, I was thrilled to be part of a conversation that is so critical to this country’s future.

As I participated in the discussion, I was reminded once again that while institutions of every kind will need to be involved in reshaping higher education in America, community colleges must lead the way. Our unique position with regard to affordability—the most critical area that needs to be addressed—combined with our collective impact—given that we serve 44 percent of all U.S. undergraduates—means that we have a special responsibility to the nation. Community colleges are a launching point for first time students and a place adult students return to get new skills, providing millions of Americans with an on ramp to the middle class. And if America fails in this same mission, community colleges will bear much of the responsibility.

One of the first things we must do is focus on productivity. Community colleges must begin by eliminating waste, cutting costs, finding new revenue streams and increasing the donor base. At Ivy Tech Community College, these priorities are articulated in our strategic plan, Accelerating Greatness. As a result, we’ve minimized the burden placed upon our students and carved out

an unmatched competitive edge when it comes to affordability.

We realize, however, that productivity also means improved outcomes. That’s why community colleges must insist that quality does not suffer as we strive to better manage our budgets. At Ivy Tech, we have made student success our first priority, understanding that our ability to lead is contingent on our ability to perform. Even the most uncertain, conservative spending environment is no excuse. We must insist that our students thrive in order for our work to have any meaning.

Community colleges also need to get better at telling our story. At the roundtable, President Obama mentioned the letters he receives from families who simply cannot pay off the college loan debts they have incurred. This can’t continue—and it shouldn’t if more people know that community colleges provide a high-quality more affordable alternative even for those who intend to pursue a four-year degree. We can no longer be reticent about ensuring that America knows who we are and what we do.  The traditional four-year residential collegiate experience is moving out of reach for many people.  Over 31 million families are on free and reduced lunch programs and they are often the same families borrowing as much as $50,000 for that traditional college experience.

Community colleges also must accept—even embrace—the reality that we can‘t do it alone. We need support from leaders in government, who must understand that higher education has to be a priority when it comes to funding. Last September’s Department of Labor’s $500 million grants to community colleges was a powerful step in the right direction.  We need to collaborate with employers to better understand their needs and respond with career-relevant programs that allow them to remain globally competitive. We must work with four-year colleges and universities to provide a higher education continuum that anticipates market conditions and responds accordingly. And we must listen to our students with an understanding that they are the best source of innovation and inspiration that we have.

Most important, community colleges need each other. Throughout the nation, great things are happening that deserve to be celebrated and championed as best practices. We must be unselfish in sharing what has worked, and equally as eager to adopt the ideas most likely to move us forward. This must be done generously, with respect on all sides but with less concern for what’s proprietary than what is possible. Whatever the source, the best ideas the community college has to offer absolutely must come to light.

This is a critical time for the American community college. I’ve seen what can happen when an industry ignores the need for innovation and reform from within, and it’s certain that higher education is headed down the same path if we do not respond. Now is the time for us to work together, in collaboration with our communities and with each other, to ensure the success we’ve enjoyed in the past is a precursor to what we’re capable of, instead of a fond memory of what could have been.

Symposium: Collaborate for completion

To ensure high school graduates are ready for college, community college leaders must collaborate with high school educators on common standards, said panelists at a “virtual symposium” at Maryland’s Montgomery College.

Jill Biden, a community college instructor and the vice president’s wife, led the session, which was designed as a cap to the four regional community college summits. Education Secretary Arne Duncan,  Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter and Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard attended.

In addition to working with high schools on college readiness, the symposium discussed  improving the effectiveness of remedial classes.

As many as 60 percent of community college students need remedial reading, writing or math class, according to an Education Department report released to coincide with the symposium.

Developmental classes “may not improve students’ persistence or completion rates and, in some cases, may actually hinder their progress toward educational goals,” the report warned.

Remediation should target each student’s learning needs so they can move quickly to college-level classes, said Shanna Smith Jaggars, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center. When students have to take an entire class to learn a few concepts, they become discouraged and drop out.

Other key issues that emerged from the regional summits are designing bridge programs for adult students with skill gaps and partnering with employers to align curriculum and instruction with workplace realities.

Collaborating on catch-up classes

To reduce the high demand for remediation, community colleges need to work with high schools to prepare students for college-level courses, writes Bill Maxwell in the Tampa Bay Trib. However, it’s rare for college instructors to talk to public school teachers about “the reasoning and analytical skills, the content knowledge and the study habits students need to succeed in college.”

Florida teachers are under pressure to raise standardized test scores, says Becky Sims, a high school English teacher in Fort Pierce. “We have neither the time, nor the resources nor the mandate to focus on how students will perform once they go to college.”

Seminole State College (formerly Seminole Community College) and the Seminole County School District are collaborating to reduce the need for remediation.

Ten years ago, the college’s math chairman, frustrated that more than 70 percent of public school students who enrolled at the college needed math remediation, met with district principals. He offered the principals a course the college would bring to their campuses. The college would provide the course content and mentoring, and the school teachers would teach the course. One school accepted.

. . .  Within a few years, the experimental school reduced its remediation rate from 70 percent to 10 percent. The team decided to replicate this model in all district high schools. Statistics from 2007-08 for the schools teaching the course showed a drop in the need for math remediation from 71 to 59 percent.

“The Seminole model works because teachers, professors, guidance counselors and administrators stopped pointing fingers,” Maxwell writes. “They built trust and worked as equal partners.”  Often that doesn’t happen. Teachers think college instructors blame them for their students’ failings. And, often, they’re right.

Early awareness is a key, says Joe Pickens, president of St. Johns River Community College in Putnam County. He’s organized a College and Career Rally for eighth-graders to make sure students know whether they’re on track for success when they’re young enough to do something about it. Nearly two thirds of local graduates have to take remedial classes at SJRCC.  “There’s just not the communication there ought to be between the community colleges and the school systems they serve. . . . I want teachers and guidance counselors to understand and communicate to their students that there’s a difference between getting out of high school and being ready for college.”