Institutional Locus of Control

Those of you in the higher ed world will likely have heard of Florida governor Rick Scott’s invitation to the state’s colleges and universities to a meeting tomorrow with the intent to “challenge” them to 100% post-collegiate employment rates for their Psychology majors. (If you haven’t, Inside Higher Ed wrote it up today.) This prompted some lamenting in higher ed circles, which is not surprising. My thoughts (many of which were posted originally in response to an email about the article linked above on the ASSESS listserv) are below.

Rather than focus on the historical roots and purpose of higher education, I have to wonder if there’s not more of a role our business partners can play (or we could ask them to play) in helping change legislator perspectives about what they need for today’s jobs. It seems that there’s an unhealthy focus on major field of study as the be-all-end-all for determining a graduate’s career success or failure, when numerous surveys of employers tell us that’s not actually what employers care about. For example:

  • AAC&U released their latest update to their employer survey about a year ago and found that “[n]early all employers (91%) agree that for career success, ‘a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.’” (Emphasis in original.) (This finding was quoted again today, in fact, in an op-ed in Maine that crossed my Twitter feed just now.)
  • A similar finding was part of a recent (arguably – 2012) Chronicle of Higher Education employer survey (PDF): “Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.”

There are coalitions of business leaders becoming more active in advocating for better state support of higher education – there’s at least one in Florida called The Florida Council of 100 – though I’m not sure of the agenda of any of them and whether they’re intentional acting on behalf of institutions or higher education as a whole or not. Still, it seems like rather than higher education continuing to beat the same drum, it may be time for a change of tactics and partners to more directly respond to policymakers’ arguably well-meaning but ultimately ill-informed demands.

In addition to enlisting new partners, the academy as a whole could work to raise the visibility of work intended to broaden the focus of higher education outcomes beyond just employment and wages. I’m most familiar with the Post-Collegiate Outcomes (PCO) Initiative completed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and (my employer*) the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) last year, which resulted in the PCO Framework and Toolkit designed to help institutions intentionally broaden the conversation about outcomes with their stakeholders. (Full disclosure: I was integrally involved in the PCO Initiative.) The Lumina Foundation recently (and without a lot of fanfare, unfortunately) released It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society, which uses data from national sources to document both the financial and human capital benefits to both individuals and their communities from a more highly education population. I also know that there are several institutions who are – as part of their mission – intentionally working to promote the civic engagement outcomes of higher education; James Madison University comes to mind as well as the institutions that are members of The New American Colleges & Universities, which held an event this morning at the National Press Club in DC presumably to engage policy-makers and DC-based think tanks more directly in promoting these outcomes.

There’s still undoubtedly a lot of progress to be made, but I think there are also a lot of potential partners to work with to push back on some of the too-narrowly-focused ideas we’re seeing.

* As always, the opinions expressed in the blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those my employer.

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