Over the past several years, community colleges have increasingly focused on helping students prepare for the workplace of today and tomorrow and on helping employers meet their labor force needs. Yet, prospective college students and employers express concern about higher education’s ability to do both.
At Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana), we believe that “blurring the line” between “academics” and “workforce” education serves both groups best.
General education faculty are often left out of campus efforts to highlight and promote skill development even though they teach critical gateway courses. They, in turn, may assume that the skills embedded in their course curricula, such as communications and critical thinking, are apparent to students and employers. They may have limited workforce experience outside of academia and often do not understand how hiring agents assess job applicants’ skills. At the same time, employers may not understand the value of these courses in developing skills, such as teamwork and cultural competence, critically needed in the modern workplace.
Ivy Tech has engaged some of its faculty who teach English composition and Quantitative Reasoning in a pilot program designed to allow them to learn more about the employment competencies that employers seek and how they assess them in job applicants.
In the initial pilot, English and math faculty from three Ivy Tech campuses formed a statewide cohort. In January, we held an initial convening, and faculty heard from national researchers about employment outcomes for community college graduates, learned from our Ivy+ CareerLink team about the employment competencies developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), and heard from faculty at other institutions engaged in similar work.
During the spring semester, campus CareerLink directors set up field trips to local employers. During these, faculty met with hiring agents at local companies to learn how they assess applicants’ skills and, in turn, shared about the skills that students develop in their courses. They heard from employers that some did not realize these needed skills were already a part of the curricula.
In June, the cohort again came together to hear the latest national research and worked together with instructional designers from the college to crosswalk NACE competencies with their course assignments. They are deploying these revised assignments in their fall courses.
Our Business Analytics team is building dashboards that will allow participating faculty to compare section-level outcomes from fall 2023 with those of fall 2022, as well as with other sections of the same course taught on their campus and statewide. Faculty will also share what they’ve learned with colleagues on their campuses through professional development offerings. This work is building new and deeper campus partnerships between our general education faculty and our CareerLink offices.
While we hope to see improved retention and successful completion rates in these courses, the real success has been in growing the enthusiasm of participating faculty. Many have expressed that they are glad to be included in work to support their students’ workforce outcomes. As one English faculty member put it, “I started out as a skeptic, but I recognize now how much this can help my students.”
This article was originally posted in CC Daily.