Assessing Skill Development in Student Affairs
This morning, I read a quick news bullet on Inside Higher Ed noting that President Obama has invited the presidents of several colleges and universities to the White House for a discussion on “affordability and productivity in higher education.” While I wholeheartedly agree that the affordability of higher education is an issue that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible (but won’t be covered in my blog today), the addition of the word productivity caused me to pause. There has been a push in recent years to make higher education “more accountable” to the public, and one of those means has been to increase assessment and demonstrate that the work we do in higher education has value and contributes to the holistic development of our students.
In student affairs, we have, in the past, been slow to jump on this bandwagon. However, in an era of shrinking budgets, political maneuvering for scarce resources and the need to maintain and grow programs that we know are having impacts, assessment has become a core value of many student affairs divisions and departments. The larger problem with assessment is that our current efforts to assess student learning, co-curricular programs and other initiatives are failing to assess what businesses and employers are looking for in their perspective employee base.
Forbes annually publishes a list of skills/traits that employers have rated as the most important skills for new employees. The most recent list includes the following seven skills:
1.) Communication Skills – the ability to listen, empathize, and respond to others.
2.) Creativity – The ability to easily adapt and adjust to multiple roles and projects in the workplace
3.) Curiosity and Engagement – Employees who will ask “Why?” and “How?” questions and will look at processes, operations, and systems critically and offer suggestions for improvement
4.) Writing Ability – Regardless of whether sending e-mails, memos, proposals, reports, or even texts, you are still engaged in professional correspondence which should reflect clear thinking.
5.) Teamwork – Being able to build a team, establish common goals and responsibilities, and most importantly, address conflicts fairly, quickly, and directly.
6.) Re-engineering Skills – Being willing to learn new skills on the job and take on new tasks and projects not normally under your area of responsibility.
7.) Computer Skills – The ability to utilize hardware and software to augment your productivity.
As a graduate of a small, private, liberal arts college, I am proud to say that most of these skills were taught not only by my faculty members and academic program where I was required to take a variety of courses outside of my major (history), but also by my mentors and advisors in the division of student life. Student affairs professionals are vital players in ensuring that we are equipping our students with many of these “soft” and “hard” skills so they can be successful in ANY career field, as all of the above mentioned skills/traits are the type of transferable skills that every employer wants their employees to possess in one way, shape, or form.
I know that at my current institution, we have had trouble articulating and measuring ways in which we help students learn these skills, so I am curious how colleagues at other institutions have incorporated assessing these variables into their overall assessment plans. Any help or advice is, as always, greatly appreciated!