By Sara Toland

Sara is Senior Manager, Workforce Readiness, Business and Community Engagement with Corporate Voices for Working Families.

A recent study of more than 2,300 undergraduate college students found that 45 percent “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college. Released by The Social Science Research Council the book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, and accompanying report, finds that colleges are not challenging students academically.  More specifically,

  • 36 percent of students demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication over all four years of college.
  • Half of students did not take a course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester.
  • One-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.

A comprehensive and informative discussion on this study and the issues of educational attainment and the skills necessary to succeed in today’s workplace is featured in this New York Times blog post “Does College Make You Smarter?

And while few can argue with the need for high educational standards and academic rigor, the study doesn’t focus on one critical reality that faces many college students today: the need to work while attending classes.

This is particularly true for students attending community colleges where fully 84 percent of students under age 24 worked during the 2007-2008 school year.

And while the “Academically Adrift” study highlights an important issue.  employers have expressed concern over the lack of workforce readiness among entry-level workers for quite some time.

In fact, the gap between employers’ needs and workers’ skills is an ongoing “call to arms” from the business community that has not abated even in current economic conditions. A 2006 report compiled through surveys of business leaders found that among those new hires with a recent college degree, employers say only 24 percent have an “excellent” grasp of basic knowledge and applied skills.  What they lack, say employers, are basic skills such as reading comprehension, writing and math, as well as important applied skills such as work ethic and professionalism.

Business leaders also report that high school graduates are even less prepared for work than college graduates.  The same skills needed to achieve in higher education, are also needed when working.  While colleges and universities want to apply academic rigor, they are faced with incoming students unprepared for heavy course loads and stuck with offering more remedial classes.

Because these students are not prepared for work, according to a recent brief and blog post released by Corporate Voices for Working Families,

“97 percent of the business leaders surveyed agree that workforce readiness is a critical business imperative.  They are deeply concerned about their future workforce and the cost of providing training to a generation of ill-prepared workers.  Furthermore, these leaders report it is imperative that top decision makers focus on workforce readiness and the talent development pipeline as a critical investment in their future productivity – not an additional expense.”

Employers in need of better prepared workers and educational systems that do not  produce an adequate supply of appropriately skilled graduates have been on a collision course, creating a growing skills gap in the marketplace. Corporate Voices, in partnership with our member companies is finding that in order to get college graduates ready for the workforce, business and higher education must collaborate.  When businesses work with education to create opportunities for students to advance academically and in their careers, employers, colleges, and individuals can all succeed.

Corporate Voices for Working Families has published a report, entitled, From an ‘Ill-Prepared’ to a Well-Prepared Workforce: The Shared Imperatives for Employers and Community Colleges to Collaborate to discuss the imperative for collaborations between industry and community colleges. The paper also highlights promising practices in employer and community college partnerships, and recommends a set of public and private policies to support the growth of these partnerships in the future.

Corporate Voices is committed to identifying and spotlighting businesses that make significant contributions to postsecondary completion through progressive talent development practices that increase access to career opportunities through education and training through a series of Learn and Earn Micro-Business Case Studies.  Nine companies have been highlighted to date and they include CVS Caremark, Expeditors, Verizon Wireless and most recently, Convergys.  If your company has a potential Learn and Earn Micro-Business Case Study, please contact Corporate Voices.