Saturday, February 28, 2015

How Do Lincoln Graduates Measure Up Against Expectations?

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed, entitled “Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes,” summarizes an Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) survey that found—good news for liberal arts institutions like Lincoln!—that employers care less about student majors than they do about their range of general skills in thinking, communication, and team work.
It also found—here’s the negative side—that students leave college feeling they have gained better job skills than their employers judge them to have.
What struck me more than this perhaps-to-be-expected disconnect between student self-assessment and employer perceptions, however, was the table showing the skills that employers find least available.
Fewer than one-fifth of the employers surveyed agreed that college graduates are well prepared in
  • working with people from different backgrounds (18%),
  • staying current on global developments (18%), and
  • foreign language proficiency (16%). 
The lowest score of all (15%) was given to “Awareness/experience of diverse cultures outside US."

How do you think our Lincoln students fare against this national profile?  What makes you think that? What are we doing to create/develop/enhance our students’ skills in these four underrepresented categories?  What could we be doing better?  If we were creating an academic master plan for the future, what must it include to ensure that our students leave college with the skills deemed necessary for success?


  1. With a significant number of minorities and international students, Lincoln provides students with opportunities to work with people from different backgrounds, stay current on global developments, be proficient in foreign languages and experience diverse cultures outside the U.S.; but most students depend on social media and try to get by with the minimum (knowledge or learning). So, I do not think Lincoln students fare better than the national profile. We can conduct our own survey to find out. To do better, our academic master plan must deliberately provide (teach) those skills, competencies and knowledge, and test for them. We may even consider making them graduation requirements.

    Safro Kwame

    1. Kwame, I think you make a very important point in calling for an academic master plan, one that specifies the skills we are teaching, where we will teach those skillls, and how we will know that students have acquired them. That is definitely an initiative faculty could (and should) take on.

  2. This is a difficult topic to broach, and I don't have much quantitative data to back it up, but I think our students our sadly lacking in knowledge of cultures and subcultures other than their own. One day I asked a class of about 20 students who Stephen Colbert was. Now, mind you, these are mass communication majors, and I am asking them about a person who is 1) a very significant current media figure and 2) at the time, had the highest ratings of any show on television among college-aged students. Only one student knew who he was! The reason that they offered was that his show is a "white show" and they don't watch them. I don't think they are particularly unusual, nor do I think most white students would be familiar with many of their media favorites. I recalled that when "Seinfeld" was at it's peak, topping the Nielsen ratings, it ranked very low among black viewers. At the same time, "Martin," which ranked somewhere in the 60-70th rank, was the most viewed show among black viewers, but had almost no white viewers.
    That, unfortunately, is America (or the two Americas). But when we use the term "knowledge of diverse cultures," I think that should apply to all students, regardless of gender, race, or religious beliefs. In some ways, it is more harmful to our students to be ignorant of other subcultures. If we accept the notion that the power structure is predominantly controlled by white Americans (and men, as well), then our students would be at a greater disadvantage in the marketplace than would white students who are ignorant of black subcultures.
    As far as other countries go, I feel our students are weak, but probably no weaker than those who graduate from other universities. They know very little about conflicts and issues facing other countries. Ask your students if they know what PIGS or BRICS is in regard to world economies. Ask them what country is engaged in a Civil War in central Africa or where the Boko Haram are most prevalent, or even what ISIS stands for (or, more properly, ISIL).
    Some students, at least, seem very well versed on these subjects. I suspect that they are ones who paid attention to their History and African-American Studies professors, and I appreciate the work that those professors are doing. As for me, I try to stretch my students' vision beyond their worlds. It is ironic that as we have more "windows on the world" through Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and all of the other facets of the internet, our society is becoming even more of a "niche culture." Conservatives watch Fox, liberals watch MSNBC, blacks watch BET, whites watch Comedy Central, etc. Maybe it's a good thing that they don't know who Rush Limbaugh is, but the fact is that he hosts the most listened to radio program in America, and 20,000,000 Americans are "ditto heads." I'm afraid they will walk into an interview at a radio station or cable system or internet news site and embarrass themselves (and lose out on a job) because of this ignorance.
    As for foreign language, I can't really make a judgment. My sense is that they are weak on their "Latin roots" as well as the other languages that are the root of English.
    I guess it sounds trite, but I still think the answer is a strong core curriculum and the incorporation of cross-cultural issues in all our courses.

    1. Ken, I couldn't agree more with the idea that we all belong to (and stay within) our own niche culture, and with your call to do what we can to expose students to other ideas and broaden those perspectives. We need to do this while at the same time strengthening their appreciation and knowledge of their own. It's certainly a gen ed issue. It is also an issue of faculy training, I suspect--incorporating cross cultural issues in all courses is not an easy thing.