The Role of Public Colleges
- Pages: 13
- Word count: 3115
- Category: High School Experience
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This literature review explores dissertations, studies, interviews, and peer reviewed articles to explore soft skills and their role in community college curriculum, co-curriculum, employee development and workforce needs. The topics addressed include: the role community colleges play in developing soft skills, defining soft skills, employer soft skill needs, current soft skill development programs in community colleges, and higher education soft skill curriculum. The review also explores Involvement Theory and Self-Determination Theory as frameworks for the research. The research provided valuable insight into the need of soft skill development from an employer and employee standpoint, the need for higher education curriculum, and the role higher education co-curricular & leadership programs can play in developing soft skills.
The Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) has developed a goal to help ensure that 65% of adults 25 years of age or older will have some form of post-secondary education by 2025. The goal is a response to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce that projects in 2025, 68% of all jobs in New Hampshire will require education beyond high school (Gittell, 2017). As a result of research by Georgetown University the Community College System of New Hampshire has focused on developing more workforce initiatives, much of the research presented in this study emerged from one such initiative that I developed at Great Bay Community College. The student leadership initiative was developed in 2013 to explore which skills were most critical to local employers. The goal of the initiative was to develop co-curricular programs that provide students with the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. The program was developed based on qualitative data from 20 local employers through individual interviews and questionnaires. Part of the interview included asking employers to identify the most critical skills they looked for when hiring. The responses were not limited and included both hard/technical skills and soft/interpersonal skills. The results showed that the most sought after skills were all soft/interpersonal. As a result of the surveys the Student Life department intentionally embed soft skill development in every student life program.
The conceptual framework for this study draws on data that was collected as part of Great Bay Community College’s student leadership initiative in 2013 and President Obama’s statement that “economic progress and educational achievement go hand in hand, educating every American student to graduate prepared for college and for success in a new workforce is a national imperative” (White House Press Secretary Fact Sheet, 2010). The results from the interviews of the 20 local employers involved in the Great Bay Community College student leadership initiative showed that the most sought after skills were all soft/interpersonal. Operating from a baseline that the data on educational attainment and workforce develop is accurate the research explores the role that higher education, specifically co-curricular programs at community colleges play in developing soft skills.
Alexander Astin’s (1984) Involvement Theory describes the importance of student involvement in college. The theory explains how institutional outcome are viewed in relation to how students change and develop as a result of participating in co-curricular activities. Astin (1984) stated that “uninvolved students, those who are not involved tend to be less successful in academic studies, limit their contact with faculty, and, spend little if no extra time on campus, limiting their total educational experience” (p. 518). Utilizing Astin’s theory as the framework to explore soft skill development in co-curricular activities provides the foundation to explore the impact. Additionally Garfield and David (1986) support Astin’s theory and surmise that “students who get significantly involved in student services programs, show gains in critical thinking skills as well as interpersonal competence and cognitive complexity” (p. 490).
Kuh (1995) surmised that life outside the classroom might be viewed as an incubator, one where knowledge is obtained in the classroom, lab, studio, and other arenas, including the athletic fields which are then tested, tried, and reworked to be utilized by students in meaningful ways (p. 145). Community Colleges as a whole typically offer fewer co-curricular activities than a four year institution. Commuter colleges also have significantly less co-curricular activities than residential campuses. In New Hampshire six out of the seven community colleges are commuter schools and only three school offer a student life/student leadership department. Additionally only two campuses offer intercollegiate athletics.
Participation in co-curricular activities is most often voluntary at the college level. Students tend to get involved and engaged in activities that they are interested in and activities that they find meaningful or beneficial to themselves. Self-determination theory contents that actions and behaviors are based on the quality of motivation. The theory is concerned with the “investigation of people’s inherent growth tendencies and the innate psychological needs that are the basis for their self-motivation and personality integration” (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 68). Since students choose to participate in co-curricular activities there is a natural carrot for them to learn and grow. Quality of motivation is the type motivation that underlines the learning behavior making it more effective for goal achievement (Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). The theory is based on three assumptions: first that humans actively engage in their development; second that humans have a natural desire for growth; and third that all individuals have universal psychological needs (Datta, 2014; Gillard, 2013). All three of these assumptions are often present in student leaders and often help student leaders develop their skills and knowledge.
Literature shows a significant growth and connection between higher education and workforce development (Lester & Costley, 2010). The quantitative and qualitative data both overwhelmingly support the conclusion that workforce development and soft skill development go hand and hand. The data from the articles is further supported by data from the Department of Labor and their K-12 program Skills to Pay the Bills which emphasizes the need for soft skills. The quantitative data from the literature reviewed support the direct connection between higher education and workforce development however the qualitative data is not so clear, specifically when exploring the mindset of traditional higher education. The question that needs to be answered, “Is it the job of higher education to prepare students to enter the workforce”? For many states this question has be repeatedly answered by state legislatures but for many professors in higher education they don’t view it the same way (Grugulis & Vincent, 2009). The data from the employer’s perspective is one side of the equation the other is the perspective of the students paying tuition dollars to get a degree.
In a recent study of a South Carolina community college that offers an office technology soft skills course, revealed that the importance of student perception of their education and training is often overlooked. The course embeds 23 soft skills that employers require for entry level office work yet students concerns and uncertainty graduating from a community college, specifically whether they would graduate with skills and knowledge employers would want weighed on them (Ellis, Kisling, & Hackworth, 2014). The students want to be sure their money and their degree are going to result in better employability, this is critical to keep in mind especially with the skyrocketing costs of higher education.
Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
Hard skills or technical skills are skills that are quantifiable and are often taught or learned in schools colleges or from previous work experience. Hard skills are often specific to each individual job, in contrast soft skills or interpersonal skills are subjective skills and often are not specific to one job. Soft skills include communication critical thinking teamwork and other skills that are more personality-oriented. Soft skills are often more sought after because they are harder to teach and most employers prefer teaching hard/technical skills specific to their company.
Figure 1 outlines two categories of employability skills – hard/technical skills and soft / interpersonal skills. As depicted in Figure 1, hard skills and soft skills can be further categorized into other subsets. The hard skills include occupational and vocational, literacy, numeracy, and technology skills. The subset of soft skills is classified as interpersonal skills.
To explore the most critical skills employers seek data came from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey of 276 employers was utilized. Subsequent surveys have been completed by NACE, the most recent in 2018, in both surveys employers were asked what characteristics they look for in a new hire and the top 10 responses were soft skills such as communication, interpersonal skills, leadership and teamwork. (ODEP, 2012).
Higher Education & Workforce Development
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that in 2016, 70% of high school graduates enrolled at higher education institutions, in comparison in 2000 only 63% did the same. Additional data shows that overall enrollment in colleges has soared to 16.9 million students in 2016 in comparison to only 13.2 million in 2000, a staggering 28% increase (U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Services, National Center for Education Statistics., 2018). The U.S. Department of Education expects 17.4 million students to be enrolled in 2027. (U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Services, National Center for Education Statistics., 2018). Part of the increase can be attributed to the commitment and focus that the U.S. has placed on having an educated workforce.
One of the primary agenda items under the Obama administration was education, specifically improving access to higher education and improving graduation rates. In 2010 President Obama stated in a Press Fact Sheet “economic progress and educational achievement go hand in hand, educating every American student to graduate prepared for college and for success in a new workforce is a national imperative” (White House Press Secretary Fact Sheet, 2010). There is much data to support the notion that education leads to improved job opportunities and increased salaries for graduates. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics states that in 2015, a person with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $48,500 a year, while those with only a high school diploma earned $23,900 (U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Beyond the initial salary differences, research also supports that individuals with a college degree are more likely to climb up the socio-economic ladder and less likely to need public assistance (Ma, Pender, & Welch, 2016).
New Hampshire Community Colleges and Workforce Development
A recent Washington Post story stated, “students and their families, faced with big tuition bills, want to be sure to pick a major that leads to a job after graduation” (Selingo, 2017), but is higher education meeting the expectations of employers when it comes to the skills students leave school with? In New Hampshire, the need for higher education to prepare students for employment is critical to the economy and workforce development (Gittell, 2017). An unprepared workforce could have dire consequences for any region but especially for New Hampshire because of their aging population and their income tax free system. Ultimately if employers are not able to find qualified employees in NH they will relocate and the tax revenue that is lost could have a significant impact on the local economy. Currently New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is at historical lows. As a response to the lower employment and the long term demographics outlook, NH is the second oldest state in the country, the Governor has adopted a goal of some type of post-secondary education to help meet current and future employer needs. For New Hampshire, the need for higher education to prepare students for employment is critical to the economy and workforce development (Gittell, 2017).
Specifically related to New Hampshire’s 65×25 there are not a lot of prominent authors other than Ross Gittell the Chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Gittell’s article Achieving economic prosperity through post-secondary education (2017) serves as the foundational work on the 65×25 initiative. Other voices on the 65X25 campaign include Will Arvelo, a former community college president and now the Director of New Hampshire’s Economic Development division.
Higher Education and Soft Skill Development in Specific Majors
Chell and Athayde (2011) produced an article that explored how skill sets impact innovation. One of the areas explored was the debate between academic credentials and training students in practical skills such as soft skills, the results of their findings support the notion that academic qualifications alone do not guarantee job placement (Chell & Athayde, 2011). In a 1995 ANTA report, supports the Chell & Athayde findings. The ANTA report also goes on to make a compelling case for soft skill development because many jobs now require employees to have strong critical thinking skills and the ability to work as part of a team (Connell, 2013). Data shows that soft skill development is a critical lifelong learning skill (Gibb, 2014). Gibb goes on to make a case that more coordinated efforts are needed for people to develop the skills and even suggests soft skill development not only in Higher Ed but in K-12.
This becomes even more critical when the cost of higher education and student debt in factored in, although the Department of Education has started to require certain educational programs to provide gainful employment data to help students make informed decisions. Unfortunately, gainful employment is not required for all programs and most higher education systems still do not explicitly teach soft skills so students are often left unprepared to enter the workforce. The need for soft skill development is well researched but higher education’s role in soft skills development in the United States is stilled debated and lacks a lot of research. In comparison schools in the UK focus part of their curriculum on transferable soft skills and competencies that are integral to employability (Andrews & Higson, 2008).
Although the U.S. higher education model has not universally adopted a model for soft skill development across all curriculums there has been some progress and research on soft skill development for specific programs. Research in the biochemistry and molecular biology education has shown that a considerable gap exists between skills required by employers and skills possessed by graduates (Talgar & Goodey, 2015). In the hospitality field data has shown that 86% of the essential skills students need to be successful are soft competencies (Sisson & Adams, 2013). Research by instructors in the Simmons College MBA program provides valuable insight on employer’s desire to see MBA students have more soft skills upon graduation (Ingols, 2014). In contrast a 2009 article by Grugulis and Vincent (2009) provide a counter argument to coordinated soft skill develop with IT students. The authors provide evidence that IT jobs require an increased emphasis of soft skills but temper their case with caution that an increased emphasis on soft skills may legitimize discrimination. In 2010 an article in Educational Psychology explored the issue of soft skill development in higher education (Chamorrow-Premuzic, Arteche, Bremner, Greven, & Furnham, 2010). The authors utilize three UK studies to explore soft skill development across different disciplines. The research from the study identifies many issues with assessing the validity of soft skills and the conceptual and methodological limitations. Among the issues in assessing the skills is the ‘catalogue’ of soft skills had varied widely from one study to the next, this is in part because practitioners use different labels to identify the skills. As part of their research the authors also seek to measure the importance of soft skills to students based on their academic discipline. The results support that students in humanities and social science have a much different perspective of soft skills and their importance versus students in natural sciences. At the Malaysian Institute of Teacher education soft skill development is embedded directly into their teacher development program (Hassan, Maharoff, & Abiddin, 2015).
A Comparison – Soft Skill Development in the UK
In the UK a study was conducted in four countries to explore the quality of graduates that enter the labor market. The study produced strong evidence that there is a correlation between transferable soft skills and graduate employability (Andrews & Higson, 2008). Andrews and Higson’s (2008) have produced strong comparison research of schools in the UK that focus part of their curriculum on transferable soft skills and competencies that are integral to employability (Andrews & Higson, 2008). Additional research from the UK include Chamorrow-Premuzic, Arteche, Bremner, Greven, & Furnham (2010) article in Educational Psychology that explores the issue of soft skill development in higher education. The authors utilize three UK studies to explore soft skill development across different disciplines. The research from the study identifies many issues with assessing the validity of soft skills and the conceptual and methodological limitations. Among the issues in assessing the skills is the ‘catalogue’ of soft skills had varied widely from one study to the next, this is in part because practitioners use different labels to identify the skills. The results support that students in humanities and social science require different skills versus students in natural sciences. One glaring problem with the data is that most of research comes from the UK and does not consider possible differences between work laws. Unfortunately the research that doesn’t is not conclusive and does not encompass all programs.
Higher Education and Soft Skill Development in Co-Curricular Activities
Since I have shifted my focus on the study I don’t have a lot of literature on this right now but wanted to include the sub-heading for the literature review.
In conclusion, the literature review covered the connection between higher education and workforce development, the importance of soft skill developent in workforce development, the need of workforce development in New Hampshire, and the role community colleges play in workforce development. The literature review revealed that employers identify their top ten needs as soft skills. Soft skill development should be a critical component of higher education. The question should no longer be whether or not it is a required but rather the question should be how should it be implemented. The direct coorelation between soft skill development and employement is something that cannot be ignored.
The research shows and supports the notion that education and employment are connected but the research does not capture what students view the purpose of higher education to be. Moving forward a consensus needs to be developed to determine how higher education can intentional teach soft skills to prepare students for the workforce. This does not mean that a higher education institution should have a singular purpose but the link between a prepared workforce and education cannot be denied.