Employers: Grads aren’t ready to work

Eleven percent of business leaders strongly agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their companies need, according to a new Gallup/Lumina poll. Yet, in a Gallup/Inside Higher Ed survey, 96 percent of university officers believe that they’re effectively preparing students for success in the workplace.

“Something is very wrong when you see the academic leaders of higher education giving themselves an A+ on this while business leaders give them an F,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.

Just 16 percent of business leaders strongly agree that jobs at their business require a post-secondary degree or credential to be successful; 38 percent strongly disagree.

Business leaders were asked what talent, knowledge or skills will prepare graduates for success in the workforce. The most popular response was that higher education institutions should provide internships and practical, on-the-job experience. In addition to experience, business leaders most want to hire people with strong communication skills, including writing and speaking skills.

Employers value both hard and soft skills, writes Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at College for America, in the Huffington Post.

I’ve had conversation after conversation with leaders in manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, government, retail and other industries, and the song remains the same. The skills sets that matter across all of these sectors are too often missing from their entry-level employees, whether they have degrees or not. These include hard skills — such as producing an extended piece of writing or interpreting information contained in graphs and charts — and soft skills — such as negotiating with others to settle conflicts and disputes.

To produce job-ready graduates, colleges and universities “must teach and hone skills through learning activities that mimic real-world scenarios rather than testing students on abstract principles,” writes Alssid.

Competency-based, project-based education can narrow the skills gap, argues College for America.

Work-study aid goes to the least needy

The neediest students are the least likely to get work-study jobs, writes Jon Marcus in the Washington Monthly. The $1.2 billion federal program uses a 50-year-old formula to distribute funds. Most of the money goes to the most expensive universities, which tend to enroll middle- and upper-middle-class students.

Greg Noll, a senior at Columbia University, balances his engineering major with a federally subsidized “work-study” job at the university’s fitness center, where he fills spray bottles, wipes sweat off the machines, and picks up towels for twenty hours a week. The $9-an-hour wage he’s paid is underwritten by the federal work-study program, which was launched in 1964 to support low-income students who would not otherwise be able to afford college.

. . . Noll’s family . . .  makes $140,000 a year, which he says, rightly, puts them squarely in the upper-middle class.

He uses the money for books, food — and going out with friends on weekends.

Only 43 percent of work-study students are needy enough to qualify for Pell Grants, say researchers at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.

Reformers say the first step would be changing the formula so that work-study funds flow to schools based on how many low-income students they enroll, not how much money they got last year. The second would be allocating more funds, especially for students nearing graduation, to career-focused paid internships off-campus—positions that frequently lead to offers of full-time employment. The third step would be expanding the size of the overall work-study program, perhaps by asking companies that would benefit from more paid internships to underwrite part of the cost.

The Senate Education Committee is holding hearings on updating the financial aid system. However, colleges and universities that receive most of the work-study dollars are expected to fight changes in the funding formula.

From the strawberry fields to computer science

Brian De Anda helps to write programming code as his fellow students look on at the Hartnell College Alisal Campus in Salinas. From left are, De Anda, Daniel Diaz, Thang Fenton, Monse Hernandez and Mateo Sixtos. (Patrick Tehan)

“We’re only one hour away from Silicon Valley, but we might as well be on the other side of the planet,” says Zahi Kanaan-Atallah, dean of advanced technology at Hartnell Community College in Salinas. The college is trying to move farmworkers’ children to a computer science degree in three years, reports Joe Rodriguez in the San Jose Mercury News.

When Mateo Sixtos drives to his computer science classes every weekday, he takes a good, hard look at the strawberry fields he first worked when he was only 10 years old. Even back then, he aced a California state math test, posting college level scores. But the young boy still had to join his parents in the fields to pick “la fruta del diablo” — the devil’s fruit.

“It’s a reminder to me,” Sixtos says, ” if I don’t study, this is where I’m going to end up.”

Sixtos, now 18, and about 30 others are the first students in the Computer Science and Information Technology Bachelor’s Degree in 3 Years program, or CSIT-in-3. Hartnell partnered with Cal State Monterey Bay with funding from a Japanese-American orchid grower.

Andy Matsui, the orchid grower, has given dozens of scholarships to low-income students from Monterey County high schools, but “almost none” earned a degree in four years, he says. Rising tuition forced students to work too many hours or drop out. He decided to fund an accelerated degree program for low-income students, pledging $2.9 million in scholarships for the first three years, or about $30,000 for each student by graduation.

Hartnell computer instructor Joe Welch and Sathya Narayanan, director of  Monterey Bay’s computer science and technology program, came up with a plan. They’d put CSIT students in a supportive, highly structured program at Hartnell, then transition them to upper-division classes at Cal State Monterey Bay.

 Students in the program take the same courses at the same time, do the same assignments, write the same papers and take the same tests.

. . .  A full-time counselor keeps them on track. On “enrichment Fridays,” they share their worries in small support groups.

Instructors hope to persuade Silicon Valley companies to provide paid summer internships. It’s a struggle: Companies usually hire only from elite schools. “I tell them our students will outwork anybody,” says Welch.

Linked learning expands in Oakland

Linked learning academies are expanding in the troubled Oakland school district, reports Kathryn Baron on EdSource. Forty-two percent of students in grades 10, 11 and 12 are in programs that link schoolwork with internships and job shadowing. Gary Yee, acting superintendent, wants to raise that to 80 percent.

At Life Academy of Health and Bioscience, students intern in hospitals, medical offices, retirement homes and elementary school programs for at-risk children.

Oakland high school students in career academies score better on standardized tests and have higher graduation rates than students not enrolled in an academy. (Graphic: Oakland Unified)

Oakland high school students in career academies score better on standardized tests and have higher graduation rates than students not enrolled in an academy. (Graphic: Oakland Unified)


Linked learning students have more access to college-prep courses required by California universities, concluded Education Trust-West after a two-year study at four high schools. In addition, linked learning students were more likely to graduate than similar students at high schools that don’t offer the program. African American, Latino and low-income students in linked learning programs had graduation rates 9 to 29 percentage points higher than the statewide average.

Oakland Unified’s analysis found fewer absences, lower suspension rates and higher test scores for students in linked learning academies.

The district, the city of Oakland and Peralta Community College District plan to collaborate on creating pathways from high school to college to career.

Most Oakland Unified graduates enroll in community college. However, high school and community college systems aren’t aligned, said Laurie Scolari, who oversees the California Community College Linked Learning Initiative at Career Ladders Project, a nonprofit in Oakland.

The new collaboration will make it possible to follow high school graduates who enroll in community college, writes Baron. “That will give a clear picture of whether high schools are doing a good job of preparing students for college-level work and where the gaps are between academy and community college programs.”

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.

How technology will change higher ed

The times they are a changin’ in higher ed concluded participants in National Journal‘s New Knowledge Economy summit.

More and more students are attending two-year colleges instead of four-year schools. Within five years, minorities will make up more than half of the country’s under-18 population. And, by 2020, two thirds of all jobs will require education beyond high school—up from roughly a quarter 40 years ago.

The first two years of a four-year college experience could rely more heavily on online instruction, coupled with group work in class with coaching by faculty members, internships or service-learning experiences.

“What we can do is try to do a much better job of using these new technological tools that we have … to have a combination of human touch and a technological learning environment that is again much better than what people are getting,” said Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation.

There’s a misconception, Carey said, that campus instruction is personal and individualized, while online instruction is not. . . . “Particularly in your first and second years, there’s nothing interpersonal about sitting in a lecture hall twice a week watching someone talk … whereas good online learning environments can be customized to you personally in a way that can actually rival or surpass what can happen in a traditional classroom.”

Colleges will need to find ways to measure achievement and competency, said Robert Shireman, who directs California Competes. “You can go into a gym and you can tell whether people are actually exercising. A lot of colleges you go in and you can’t tell” whether students are learning, he said.

CC focuses on civic learning, engagement

Civic engagement is part of the mission at Mount Wachusett Community College in Massachusetts, writes Fagan Forhan, director of experiential learning and opportunities and civic engagement.

More than 10 years ago, President Daniel Asquino asked faculty, staff, and community leaders to develop a plan to integrate service learning into courses and make civic involvement part of the college culture.

A newly endowed Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, funded by an anonymous donor, supports the work of faculty, students and community groups. The center houses internship, career placement and job readiness programs.

Service learning has improved retention and completion rates and helped students prepare for transfer and careers, Forhan writes.

Nursing graduates can’t find jobs

California nursing graduates are having trouble finding their first job, reports the Sacramento Bee.  As experienced nurses delay retirement and hospitals try to avoid training expenses, nursing graduates are working unpaid internships to break into the profession.

Barbara Elwell earned an associate degree in nursing in May from the College of Marin, but she’s still job hunting.

“We’ve gone through all these classes and this training, and yet, I’m a licensed RN in this country, and I can’t find a job.”

California doubled the number of nursing graduates, reports the Bee.

As recently as three years ago, hospitals were offering moving expenses, housing allowances and signing bonuses to recent graduates of nursing schools.

Veteran nurses who need no training are still in demand, but new nurses are volunteering or taking part-time jobs to gain experience.

In the next 10 years, baby boomers will retire, the state’s insured population will grow and nurses will be in short supply again, predicts Timothy Bates, a program analyst at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California, San Francisco.


‘Earn and learn’ to close the skills gap

While millions of Americans seek work, half of employers say they can’t find qualified workers, write John Bridgeland and Jessica Milano of Civic Enterprises in the Huffington Post.

Today, America has only 45 million workers who have the training and skills to fill 97 million jobs that require some post-secondary education. . . . At the same time, the nation has more than 100 million candidates for only 61 million low-skill, low-wage positions.

The U.S. needs “high skill” and “middle skill” workers, they write. While 33 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree by the end of this decade, another 30 percent will require a two-year degree or certificate.

Businesses and colleges need to create more “earn and learn” opportunities for students.

More than 80 percent of college leaders and 60 percent of college dropouts identified financial pressures such as needing to work as a major challenge to students completing their degrees. Compounding this challenge is that oftentimes the work students do outside the classroom to pay the bills has little relevance to the degrees for which they are studying, and so rather than enhancing their studies and increasing their motivation to finish their degree, it often becomes a competing priority for their time.

If employers want colleges to produce skilled workers, they’ll have to provide internships, apprenticeships or cooperative learning experiences.

Across the Great Divide, a new report by Civic Enterprises and Corporate Voices for Working Families calls for more attention to the value of two-year degrees and job-specific credentials.