Since 2012 the Higher Education Strategic Information and Governance Project (HESIG) at Stockton University has conducted surveys and convened forums focused on college value and outcomes. Thestrongly indicates that the single most important reason for citizens to attend college is to get knowledge and skills leading to a good job. For graduates, starting a good career is viewed as the most important college outcome. Research shows clearly that the top skills graduates and employers expect from a college education are higher-order writing, speaking, and problem-solving abilities.
These studies reinforce that colleges need to change business and educational practices, principally to provide more practical experiences tied to academic studies that help students succeed in lifelong learning and the workplace. While there is broad agreement among students, educators, and employers about skills, abilities and outcomes, there is an apparent disconnect between expectations and the means of achieving them.
Some related specific findings of the project include:
Most citizens perceive New Jersey’s colleges as having good quality, and high value for the cost, but about two-thirds of those surveyed view cost as a major barrier to college access, with about 40 percent saying that college is not affordable.
The top reasons for choosing a college are location and program offering, not simply cost.
Citizens have ideas about who should be responsible for needed change (colleges in partnership with businesses) and what can be done to enhance degree completion (credit for knowledge and skills gained outside of college).
They also have specific ideas about how to increase college value; for example, more practical experiences, such as internships, related to studies. While internships are seen as important to job success, relatively few current students (20 percent) actually have an internship experience, even though three-fourths are working, with 40 percent working at least 30 hours per week, annually.
Roughly 30 percent of recent graduates view academic advising and career counseling as unimportant to career success, which ironically suggests that more of these services are needed.
Civic education is viewed by college graduates as one of the least expected college outcomes.
To bridge this gap between expectations and performance in order to increase the value of college in New Jersey, HESIG research suggests the following:
Make effective academic and career counseling a requirement of graduation. Create an explicit yet flexible plan for success regarding academic, practical, financial, and social needs for every entering student. The plan would be reviewed each semester, and updated annually.
Require internship experiences for every student through stronger business/alumni partnerships. Beginning in the third year of study in a four- year sequence, every student should be required to seek an appropriate internship or practical experience related to academic and career aspirations. The state, universities and businesses should create Regional Internship Centers to facilitate and certify internships.
Help students demonstrate attainment of critical communications and workplace skills, and explore post-college plans. In the final year of study, each student should be assessed and counseled by the institution regarding critical skill attainment, and should participate in an exit advising/counseling program regarding graduate/ professional study and career opportunity.
Prepare students for civic participation. Upper division students should take a course in their major degree program linked to civic responsibility.
These suggestions are not easy to implement, and in many cases would revolutionize college financial and personnel resource management. But they should not diminish liberal learning, or make college more vocational. Instead they complement higher-order abilities gained in college with real-world practical and problem-solving skills, enabling students to succeed. They would help, too, in making college more affordable, by accelerating degree completion.
Excellent examples already exist in preparation of health professionals and teachers, none of whom can achieve a degree without hands-on experience.
Higher education is extremely important to the hopes of an increasingly diverse state population which will consist of a larger share of racial minorities and new immigrants, seeking work in a state where about two-thirds of all new jobs will require at least some college study.
A strong partnership among government, business and labor, and universities can make college more valuable by providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in learning for a lifetime, to prepare for diverse jobs and careers, and to participate as citizens in a democratic society.