Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Delivering on the promise of Higher Education

(Cappelli, 2012, p. 44)
Following an online discussion on the cost of education, I went hunting to find out what the tuition cost is in the US. According to Laura Bridgestock, degree course costs are between USD$9k and USD$31k - NZD$14k to NZD$47k - per annum (30 January 2015).

NZ is similar to the US community/state college end of the spectrum, as average annual NZ course costs come in at around NZD$15k pa. What I found really interesting is that our living costs are apparently around quarter that of the US: Kiwi students get a grant of around NZD$5k per year, in the US, you need around USD$9k (NZD$16k).

Further, in the US, almost all students are able to apply and receive grants to cover some or all of their tuition costs (Bridgestock, 30 January 2015). This is not something that our Kiwi students have access to.

So while we pay at the low end, we are far, far less likely to get a fee-break. Education is costly in New Zealand.

What sparked this was a post about a new book, "Will College Pay Off" supported by an interview with the author, Peter Cappeli, and The Wharton School of Business at Penn U (15 June 2015). Peter said "What [employers] care about is the college experience. In the U.S., the more traditional college experience where you are working in a community, you’re getting along with other people, you’re learning from the context as well as just the academic material."

He continues later in the interview with "employers care a lot about internships more than they seem to care about the college curriculum that you’re taking, work experience on campus, and maybe some of these certificates that you can get online in fields where those count, like computer science" (Wharton & Cappelli, 15 June 2015).

I found Peter's comments about the - so called - 'soft skills' really interesting. It is something that I tell my students: it doesn't really matter what degree you have done. What matters is that you have a proven ability to stick through to completing a body of learning, on your own. Employers then know you have those interpersonal and character skills that will translate into the workplace. What those skills are were explored in a previous book by Peter, "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs" (2012).

The reasons are often perceptual. Tertiary institutes are not good at reporting to potential employers what skills graduates possess. Additionally, some tertiary institutes focus too heavily on theory, and not enough on application, some vice versa. Neither position is what an employer is seeking: they need both for problem-solving and future-proofing.

Like the US, NZ degrees are trending into internships (where I teach, we use them). These are useful because they bring together all the techical skills with the employability skills that the workforce demands: time-management, planning, communication, deadline-orientation, customer service, language skills and teamwork.

But we still don't report on them to future employers. I think that our tertiary institutes should be doing just that, and reporting on how many extensions students have applied for, the deadlines missed, and the other employability skills listed in the image that illustrates this post, because, although it may be informal now, it could easily be formalised and reported along with the student transcript at the end of a degree programme.

But it is critical that we ensure our graduates leave with the ability to learn, to communicate, to problem-solve, to be self-disciplined and to self-manage.


Sam

* Speciality papers have not been dropped, but have been moved to honours, grad-cert or -dip qualification offerings instead. That allows everyone's needs to be met.

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