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The Key to Improving Career Readiness Among College Graduates

By 3p Contributor

By Pete Wheelan

There’s no debate that society thrives when students succeed. Families, communities, businesses, educational institutions and government institutions are all better off when students take full advantage of their time at school. Yet research indicates that our nation’s students are leaving college unprepared for what lies ahead.

A recent study found that 40 percent of college seniors don’t graduate with the complex reasoning skills needed for today’s workplace. Another study found that only 20 percent of undergraduates feel very prepared to join the workforce. A Northeastern University poll found that 73 percent of business leaders assert there is a substantial skills gap. And according to Gallup, only 11 percent of business leaders feel that higher education institutions are turning out graduates with the skills and competencies their businesses need.

Colleges and universities alone cannot solve this problem. Addressing the skills gap requires a coordinated effort between educational institutions, businesses, government and nonprofits.

What can each party bring to the table?

Different types of stakeholders bring different value to the equation, such as:


  • Expertise in curriculum development and instructional pedagogy

  • Experienced instructors

  • Cutting-edge research

  • Knowledge of the skills needed in the workforce now and in the future

  • Internships and other experiential learning opportunities

  • Technology and services to complement institutions’ student support and career-services offerings
Government and nonprofits

  • Ability to bring parties together and apply resources to address problems at scale

  • Capacity to serve as neutral arbitrators and ensure all parties are working toward a common good

By bringing all of the stakeholders together, everyone wins. Students gain the right skills to thrive in fulfilling jobs that map to their career ambitions, while businesses receive competitive and competent employees. Universities benefit from higher enrollment, retention rates and graduation rates, which can improve finances and brand reputation. Meanwhile, nonprofits and the government see greater returns on their investments in human capital development projects — and society gains productive citizens.

How schools and corporations can collaborate

Public-private partnerships generate opportunities for students to receive hands-on, real-world experience in their particular fields of study and to develop critical nonacademic skills, such as time management, communication and problem-solving.

Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars coaching initiative achieves many of these aims.

Through the program, six public institutions — Indiana State University (ISU), Indiana University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana University East and Indiana University Kokomo — are collaborating with InsideTrack to provide nonacademic support (i.e., student success coaching to address “real life” issues outside of the classroom) for low-income, first-generation students.

Professional coaches assist students in adjusting to common stressors of university life, retaining scholarships, executing plans to graduate on time and building critical life skills. The program has already served more than 2,100 students in its first year with very strong results.

More than 62 percent of ISU students in the program advanced to a second year, which is 3.8 percentage points higher than the school’s average over the previous three years. And 61 of 100 IUPUI freshmen in the program also advanced to a second year. Even more impressive, 45.7 percent of coached freshmen at Ivy Tech were retained to a second year, 8.8 percentage points higher than its three-year historical average.

Another example of public and private stakeholders working together is Starbuck’s College Achievement Plan. This program offers full-time and part-time employees full tuition coverage at Arizona State University Online, as well as tutoring and a variety of human resources to help the students balance work, family, academics and finances.

So far, 4,800 baristas have enrolled in the program, and results show that the program is working. Employment applications at Starbucks increased by 600,000 in one year, and ASU reported a 5 percent higher student retention rate among the program’s enrollees compared to its core student body.

In fact, many university-business partnerships are underway and achieving great results. IBM has been involved with higher institutional learning for 70 years. Most recently, it partnered with 28 business schools and universities to create and revise big-data curriculum. Participating schools receive free access to IBM software tools, case studies and guest lectures from the company.

Clemson University also has a history of partnering with businesses. BMW gave it $10 million to fund two endowed chairs in systems engineering and manufacturing. Moreover, while collaborating with Fluor, the university developed an online master’s degree program in engineering with an emphasis on supply chain optimization and logistics.

Where to start

Socially-conscious business leaders looking to create sustainable talent pipelines can begin by identifying the educational institutions most directly affiliated with their businesses.

Find out where your employees went to school, which schools you currently recruit from, and which local colleges could be a great breeding ground for your next generation of team members. But don’t spread the love too thin — it’s better to create one fruitful relationship than several superficial ones.

Once you select an institution, explore the various ways you can engage with it. Don’t just talk to the president; set up meetings with the heads of the online or continuing education office, the career office and the alumni office.

If you’re looking to make an impact at scale, consider engaging with your state’s higher education executive officer. Just remember, these partnerships can’t be one-sided. Your company should focus on ways to collaborate so everyone’s goals are met.

With your goals aligned, take collaborative action to provide college students with a better, more comprehensive education that focuses on building the skills they’ll need in the real, post-graduate world. This will provide your company with solid competitive advantages as well — the kind of return on investment any socially conscious business leader can get behind.

Image credit: Pixabay

Pete Wheelan, CEO of InsideTrack, has dedicated his career to leading mission-driven, high-growth companies focused on helping individuals live up to their full potential. Before joining InsideTrack, he served as chief operating officer and chief revenue officer at Blurb, a groundbreaking leader in unleashing creative expression through self-published books.

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