Why employability and adaptability are critical to college education

 
By Karen Hebert-Maccaro
chief learning experience officer, O’Reilly
February 11th, 2019

Rising tuition costs and a perceived lackluster return on investment have called into question the value of a college degree. In fact, almost half of the knowledge gained in the first year of a four-year technical degree is outdated by the time a student graduates, according to The World Economic Forum. This is just one of the reasons why educators must make employability and adaptability a primary focus of today’s college education.

While learning for the sake of learning is a noble concept, the most successful higher education institutions will find good partners–corporate and otherwise–to gain insight, support and resources that can support this charter and meet the demands of a quickly evolving workforce and society.

While this is easier said than done, there are several ways that colleges and universities can start being more strategic about preparing students for the real world by implementing solid employability and adaptability practices into their curricula.

Employability

Despite college enrollment being on the rise, employers are increasingly dissatisfied with the skills and career readiness of college graduates–and they’re not alone. In fact, a recent study conducted by McGraw-Hill Education found that only four in 10 college students surveyed felt very or extremely prepared for their careers. A majority of college graduates are hesitant to say they have what it takes to be successful professionally.

Fortunately, there are several ways educators can make employability a core goal going forward. The first step is to evaluate the curriculum at both the course and the program level for alignment to present employment trends and those that are likely to emerge in the foreseeable future. The most effective way to do this is to partner with other organizations that can augment the curriculum, specifically around career-ready skills development at the ground floor. This enables educators to actively seek input from enterprises regarding employment needs and deficiencies in their existing workforce.

Turning these practices into actions may require a different way of thinking about curriculum design, faculty qualifications, curriculum augmentation and corporate relationships, but it may just be necessary for the continued relevance of the collegiate education process.

Adaptability

Rapidly decreasing shelf life of skills and knowledge learned is a byproduct of rapidly evolving technology–and it’s not slowing down any time soon. To keep up with the pace of change, higher education must expand to include developing adaptability. This can be accomplished in a myriad of creative ways, each as unique as the institution and student body it serves.

Educators should consider incorporating the concept of a ‘growth mindset’ into the core, required curriculum for all students. A growth mindset describes the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. For example, if students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger and therefore put in the extra time and effort, leading to higher achievement. This helps students train their brains to implement good strategies and practices for learning, which with time, become good habits they can take with them post-graduation.

Another component of this is teaching and evaluating learning and problem-solving strategies alongside learning subject matter content. In addition to traditional book studies, institutions should encourage students to learn from failure. This can most directly be accomplished through experiential learning (projects, internships, etc.) but can also be accomplished through reviewing case studies and listening to guest lecturers and experienced faculty who can showcase ways to recover from, learn from and leverage mistakes as part of the process of continued growth. Doing so provides students with real world examples of overcoming failure that they can implement into their professional lives. Learning how to learn in a continuous manner is one of the most significant and positive impacts higher education can have on individuals and society as a whole–and adaptability learned from overcoming failure is the foundation of that.

By putting a renewed focus on employability and adaptability as core responsibilities, higher education can help decrease the underemployment of recent graduates and reinforce the value proposition of a college degree. While this doesn’t require institutions of higher education to complete an overhaul of their models, it does require a shift to include these concepts as central to the model. Doing so, will, increase the relevance of higher education to real-world problems businesses face now – and in the future and will help groom good learners into valuable professionals.

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