Preparing students for non-academic careers

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A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

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Preparing college students for the future has been much in the news lately. President Obama called on us to celebrate science fair winners, not just Super Bowl winners. Richard Arum and Josipa Roska present disturbing evidence that U.S. college students are Academically Adrift.1 Specifically,

  • 45 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later -- but that's the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven't experienced any college learning.
  • (From the Inside Higher Ed report on Academically Adrift)
In the same vein, I'm the co-author of a paper that just appeared in BioScience (subscription required).

Perceptions of Strengths and Deficiencies: Disconnects between Graduate Students and Prospective Employers

The US Botanical Capacity Assessment Project (BCAP) was initiated as a first step to gauge the nation's collective ability to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century. The project, in which the authors of this article are involved, specifically aimed to identify multisector contributions to and gaps in botanical capacity in order to develop growth opportunities to address research and management problems. One of the primary gaps revealed by the BCAP surveys was that the skills graduate students identified as their greatest strengths closely matched the areas future employers (government and private sectors) identified as needing greatest improvement. Although our survey focused on only one discipline (botany), we suspect that the results are applicable throughout the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. We suggest that it is critical for university faculty and administrators to team with professionals from government, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations to identify critical and desired knowledge and skill sets and implement the necessary curriculum changes to provide graduates with the tools they need.
If we were to survey academic employers of our students, I suspect most of them would be pretty satisfied, but we don't seem to be doing a good job of preparing science students for non-academic careers.

For more information about other findings of the Botanical Capacity Assessment Project, visit the BCAP website, where you can download the full report, a brief summary, and a summary of recommendations.

1That's the title of their recently released book. I have a copy on my Kindle, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. When I do, expect some comments here.