Colleges Are Failing to Prepare Students for Work; Here’s the Solution


Job prospects for today’s college seniors are looking up. The hiring of bachelors-degree holders is expected to jump by 19 percent this year.

But few are actually prepared for employment. Even though nine in 10 recent college grads believe they’re ready for the workforce, only half the nation’s employers agree.

Colleges and universities need to address this. Specifically, they should aggressively incorporate into their courses high-impact educational practices (HIP), which connect academic lessons to real-world problems and foster the creativity and critical thinking employers value. These practices can turn academically engaged students into profession-ready graduates.

Today, academic skills alone aren’t sufficient for career success. Employers also want workers who communicate effectively, know how to manage their time, and can get a task done with minimal supervision. Indeed, over 90 percent of businesses value such “soft” aptitudes more highly than any specific college major.

High-impact practices provide this pre-professional base, often through extended research, collaborative projects, or community-based service jobs. In every case, a central feature is frequent, rigorous feedback. Students improve through input from peers and professors. Instead of toiling away at solo homework assignments and term papers, students operate in an environment that approximates the working world.

It’s no surprise, then, that students feel more confident with their professional prospects after participating in HIP, with 75 percent reporting that this work prepared them for life after college.

Employers also highly value HIP experience. Ninety-four percent of employers are more likely to hire a recent college grad who has completed a long-term project that included intensive research and problem-solving skills.

And student participants don’t have to wait until they get to the workplace before reaping the benefits, since HIP programs immediately enhance their academic performance.

Consider a study of nearly 400 colleges and universities. Researchers tracked students in “learning communities” — where folks took classes together and lived in close proximity — and found that that these students put more effort into their school work, took harder courses, and developed closer relationships with faculty than those who did not.

Likewise, research from Kent State University shows that students with more HIP engagement have higher GPAs.

Some higher-education institutions have already recognized the power of HIP.

At the University of Iowa, for example, students interested in business live together in the “BizHawks” community. This program sponsors a contest in which student groups work collaboratively on a business pitch. “BizHawks” even practice business manners at meals with faculty and receive extensive feedback on their resumes.

And at my own university, New York Institute of Technology, faculty members provide students with real-world experiences, typically through team-based capstone projects or internships at companies and nonprofits. These internships are meaningful experiences and sanctioned by the school, as students sign an agreement with our office of career services detailing the skills they hope to develop.

In our school of architecture and design, one professor implements HIP in his course by having students transfer their designs into virtual reality apps so they can walk through their work and “see” ways to improve it. Industry leaders also inspect these virtual reality projects and provide honest feedback, giving our budding architects a taste of real-world project management.

Today’s college students will enter a promising job market. Universities must evolve to better empower students to succeed once they’re in the workforce. High-impact educational practices should be a central part of that equation.

Francine Glazer is associate provost for educational innovation and director of New York Institute of Technology’s Center for Teaching and Learning.