In August, according to USA Today, 31 percent of small businesses indicated they had positions they couldn’t fill. With the right skills and experiences, students can become job candidates that help meet employers’ unfilled demand.

That’s why Strada Education NetworkSM supports Completion With a Purpose®, strengthening the pathways between education and employment. And it’s why we focus on college value for all, a year ago launching our MSI Measuring College Value Initiative.

Institutions that graduate students with the skills and experiences employers want are doing the right thing by their students and ensuring that their institutions will thrive — even as competition for students and finances persist.

Defining career pathways earlier. Providing skills that transfer more quickly to the workplace. Building real-world experience into the curriculum. Fostering communication skills. Helping students note their achievements along their educational paths.

. . .

Recognizing the value of career readiness is the key to understand that college completion is not an end, but a means to an end.

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These are all recipes for enhancing students’ readiness for rewarding careers, and all part of the MSI Measuring College Value initiative. Teams from the five minority-serving institutions involved in the project — we’ve dubbed them the Fantastic Five — gathered in Strada Education’s hometown of Indianapolis last week to take stock of their efforts one year into the project, and to chart a course for MSI Measuring College Value’s remaining two years.

Through a competitive grant process, each institution has received $325,000 to fund its efforts to more effectively use data to help students stay on track to college completion and successfully navigate into rewarding careers. The Fantastic Five institutions include:

Emerging themes

During the initial phase of the MSI Measuring College Value initiative, each institution developed its own plan for enhancing college value. Strada Education provided each participating institution with a data coach and an implementation coach. These coaches helped the schools to narrow their focus on specific practices and policies to implement and develop a plan for evaluating their success.

Each institution’s team developed specific goals to help that school improve completion rates and workforce readiness skills. Read descriptions of the MSI Measuring College Value plans.

The participating schools’ college value work centers on six major themes:

1. Curricular restructuring

  • Creating courses
  • Focusing on curricular experiences and outcomes
  • Incorporating a first-year seminar or an emphasis on the first year
  • Establishing learning communities

2. Instructional enhancements

  • Revising assignments and developing career action plans, real-life scenarios and employer collaboration
  • Emphasizing teamwork, collaborative learning, and workshops connected to courses
  • Encouraging employer contact in courses and visits to workplaces

3. Work-based experiences

  • Providing internships
  • Connecting employment to the course or program
  • Capitalizing on work-study programs

4. Co-curricular employer emphasis

  • Offering opportunities for shadowing industry professionals
  • Hosting employer panels
  • Pairing students and industry professional mentors
  • Encouraging attendance at regional conferences for Continuing Education Unit credits
  • Promoting industry workshop and networking events

5. Advising improvements

  • Conducting early academic and career interventions
  • Using career inventories
  • Facilitating development of career plans

6. Institution-wide assessment

  • Using data to inform decisions
  • Assessing strengths and challenges in students’ career preparations

Lessons learned

Over the past year, our Fantastic Five institutions have learned several lessons about efforts that most effectively align education and career readiness for students:

  • Institutions generally have their student outcome sights fixed on graduation rates. Post-college outcomes are novel outcomes for many campuses.
  • Recognizing the value of career readiness is the key to understanding that college completion is not an end, but a means to an end. The measurement of the true value of a college degree or credential is the earner’s ability to thrive in careers as a pathway to economic mobility and sustainability.
  • College value cannot be achieved by working in silos. Buy-in from both internal and external constituents of the university and faculty is key.
  • Partnership is a major aspect of the project, and colleges must view business and industry as partners. More importantly, business/college partnerships must go beyond simply having business representatives serve in an advisory capacity.

What’s next

Now it’s on to phase two — implementation, as each team goes back to its campus to work with faculty, staff, students and employers to enact policies and revise curricula to enhance students’ career readiness.

These trailblazing institutions are experimenting and learning quickly. They already are exploring ways to scale their efforts across their campuses. Just as importantly, the institutions and Strada Education are eager to share what we are learning with other institutions.

We are proud of our five minority serving institutions and eager to show that institutions that are under-resourced and those that serve first-generation or low-income students or students of color can increase the value of their degrees by increasing the success of their graduates.