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Colleges Are Failing to Prepare Students for Work; Here's the Solution

Written By Editor on 1/21/17 | 1/21/17

 By Francine Glazer

Job prospects for today's college seniors are looking up. The hiring of
bachelors-degree holders is expected to jump by 19 percent this year.

But few are actually prepared for employment. Even though nine in 10 recent
college grads believe they're ready for the workforce, only half the
nation's employers agree.

Colleges and universities need to address this. Specifically, they should
aggressively incorporate into their courses high-impact educational
practices (HIP), which connect academic lessons to real-world problems and
foster the creativity and critical thinking employers value. These practices
can turn academically engaged students into profession-ready graduates.

Today, academic skills alone aren't sufficient for career success. Employers
also want workers who communicate effectively, know how to manage their
time, and can get a task done with minimal supervision. Indeed, over 90
percent of businesses value such "soft" aptitudes more highly than any
specific college major.

High-impact practices provide this pre-professional base, often through
extended research, collaborative projects, or community-based service jobs.
In every case, a central feature is frequent, rigorous feedback. Students
improve through input from peers and professors. Instead of toiling away at
solo homework assignments and term papers, students operate in an
environment that approximates the working world.

It's no surprise, then, that students feel more confident with their
professional prospects after participating in HIP, with 75 percent reporting
that this work prepared them for life after college.

Employers also highly value HIP experience. Ninety-four percent of employers
are more likely to hire a recent college grad who has completed a long-term
project that included intensive research and problem-solving skills.

And student participants don't have to wait until they get to the workplace
before reaping the benefits, since HIP programs immediately enhance their
academic performance.

Consider a study of nearly 400 colleges and universities. Researchers
tracked students in "learning communities" -- where folks took classes
together and lived in close proximity -- and found that that these students
put more effort into their school work, took harder courses, and developed
closer relationships with faculty than those who did not.

Likewise, research from Kent State University shows that students with more
HIP engagement have higher GPAs.

Some higher-education institutions have already recognized the power of HIP.

At the University of Iowa, for example, students interested in business live
together in the "BizHawks" community. This program sponsors a contest in
which student groups work collaboratively on a business pitch. "BizHawks"
even practice business manners at meals with faculty and receive extensive
feedback on their resumes.

And at my own university, New York Institute of Technology, faculty members
provide students with real-world experiences, typically through team-based
capstone projects or internships at companies and nonprofits. These
internships are meaningful experiences and sanctioned by the school, as
students sign an agreement with our office of career services detailing the
skills they hope to develop.

In our school of architecture and design, one professor implements HIP in
his course by having students transfer their designs into virtual reality
apps so they can walk through their work and "see" ways to improve it.
Industry leaders also inspect these virtual reality projects and provide
honest feedback, giving our budding architects a taste of real-world project
management.

Today's college students will enter a promising job market. Universities
must evolve to better empower students to succeed once they're in the
workforce. High-impact educational practices should be a central part of
that equation.

Francine Glazer is associate provost for educational innovation and director
of New York Institute of Technology's Center for Teaching and Learning.

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