When Gallup found recently that only 28 percent of liberal arts majors felt confident they would be ready for workplace success, ACUE and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) resolved to take action. We know that a quality liberal arts education provides some of the most durable intellectual preparation for a future of unpredictable work, and undergraduate humanities majors consistently top the list for lifetime earnings. The Gallup statistic implied, however, a tension between career readiness and the liberal arts.
Together, ACUE and CIC set out to better connect the two by preparing faculty to teach with evidence-based approaches and methods that improve learning and develop career-necessary skills. And in the process of deepening the relationship of a liberal arts education and career preparation, help students realize the value of their education.
The CIC Consortium for Instructional Excellence and Career Guidance
With generous support from Strada Education Network, ACUE and CIC formed a Consortium for Instructional Excellence and Career Guidance. Twenty-six CIC members were selected through a competitive RFP, at which we prepared and credentialed nearly 500 faculty members in evidence-based teaching practices shown to promote student engagement, persistence, deeper levels of learning and students’ career readiness—and study the impact on both faculty and students.
Why this focus on faculty members, rather than career counselors and advisors? One reason was the Gallup-Purdue study of 30,000 graduates, finding that alums were twice as likely to be engaged in rewarding work and leading fulfilling lives when they had a professor who took an interest in them, made them excited about learning, and assigned meaningful, semester-long projects. Gallup also found that students look to faculty as mentors and often perceive the advice from faculty more helpful than the guidance from career counselors. Finally—as a practical matter—students spend far more time in class with their professors than with advisors and other support professionals—making class time a key opportunity to emphasize career-relevant learning.
Over the 2017-2018 academic year, cohorts totaling hundreds of faculty members were enrolled in an ACUE course that led to a Certificate in Effective College Instruction with a Concentration in Career Guidance and Readiness. Through course demonstration videos, interviews with experts, planning guides and other resources, faculty developed evidence-based teaching approaches in all 25 core teaching competencies of ACUE’s Effective Practice Framework, which addresses five major areas:
- Designing an Effective Course and Class
- Establishing a Productive Learning Environment
- Using Active Learning Techniques
- Promoting Higher Order Thinking, and
- Assessing to Inform Instruction and Promote Learning.
And for this Consortium’s focus on career-preparation, faculty also learned how to:
- Embed Career Guidance into their courses, and
- Design assignments and projects that develop students’ career-ready skills.
Creating Value: The Results
The results deepened the Consortium’s conviction that we can make clearer the important connections between a liberal education and development of career-related skills. We also saw that faculty are eager to learn about and implement the teaching practices to show the relevance of their field.
In total, 450 faculty earned their certificate for a program completion rate of 86%. This is no small accomplishment for faculty, given that this was a year-long course that required implementation of at least 25 evidence-based practices—a meaningful investment of time and energy. 95% found the experience relevant, and we saw strong increases in faculty members’ confidence in embedding career guidance and designing career-aligned assignments.
As for student impact, a very large percentage of the 60,000 students taught by participating faculty reported learning career-related skills—thanks to the help of their faculty. Still under analysis are other measures of student impact, including changes in grades and course completion rates. Fortunately, these strong faculty and student leading indicators are similar to what we are seeing at implementations that are farther along, where we’ve had the time to study, publish, and independently validate studies on firmer measures of student impact.
Among students taught by ACUE-credentialed faculty, we’re seeing closed Pell gaps, stronger completion of gateway courses, closed completion gaps between African American and all other students, and increased grades among other findings. We have every reason to believe we’ll see similar results across the Consortium.
Administrators and faculty in participating institutions also observed significant cultural change. Lillian Schumacher, president of Tiffin University, noted in her panel remarks at the CIC President’s Institute, that faculty grew in their belief that teaching career-ready skills is part of their role as instructors. Tim Barry, president of Alderson Broaddus University, also on the CIC President’s Institute panel, shared that the Consortium gave him another opportunity to speak with faculty about the importance of teaching and learning. Given the many demands on a president’s time, and the sharing of responsibilities with a provost, Barry noted that this is “something presidents sometimes don’t talk about enough,” but how critically important it is to do so, because “what else is there?”
There were other key learnings, too. First, any concerns that faculty might reject the entire focus on career-readiness where put to rest. Faculty loved the opportunity to learn how to better show the relevance of their work to students’ future lives.
Second, we learned that it’s a challenge for very small institutions to enroll whole cohorts faculty, and for that reason ACUE recently launched in early 2020 open enrollment, micro-credential courses where institutions can enroll smaller numbers of faculty into courses with colleagues from across the country.
A last lesson learned, goes back to questions about the value of a liberal arts education. Amidst all of the efforts to better communicate the value of a college education—to bolster public confidence, particularly in a liberal arts degree— we found that we can create more value, every time we help a student better understand the relevance of their education, and every time we retain and graduate more well-prepared students, who go on to become ambassadors and champions of our value.
This essay was prepared from remarks delivered at the Council of Independent College’s 2020 Presidents Institute and from the article “Creating Value” in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning (2019).