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Exit Tests Blend Skills with Theory

Employers are struggling to understand the skills promised by the degrees of recent graduates, adding to recent questions about the value of a postsecondary credential.

While a degree from an accredited institution can show great potential in a candidate, it typically provides very little information about the graduate’s specific skill-set.

In fact, 50 percent of corporate human resources staff, managers and executives indicated that they have issues finding qualified degree-holders who are capable of excelling in job functions, according to a survey conducted in September 2012 by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Everybody has been fooled by good grades or a good resume,” Michael Sweeney, a senior vice president at architecture firm HNTB Corp., told The Wall Street Journal.

As a result of employer dissatisfaction, universities and colleges are beginning to realize that they must introduce new and innovative ideas to prove the value of their degrees to both students and the workforce.

One method for a growing number of institutions is to forgo the credit hour altogether and introduce competency-based learning. This learning model is useful, especially for adult learners, as it removes many barriers to enrollment and completion in higher education. To make this approach even more workforce-friendly, one university established a second transcript that can better display competencies mastered by students to their prospective employers.

Along these lines, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) is launching a voluntary exit test for graduates next spring, called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), in an effort to help determine workplace readiness. The CLA, combined with a degree, is expected to show prospective employers that graduates have both the hard and soft skills they need to thrive as an employee. The exit test focuses on assessing in-demand skills such as creative thinking, document literacy, analytical reasoning, writing and communication.

“This is a test of the things that every college graduate ought to be able to do and something that employers will be very interested in since it replicates the kinds of challenges that one encounters everyday in a professional situation,” Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told The Wall Street Journal.

Aside from CAE, other testing firms are also launching new assessments to determine recent graduate skill levels. The National Career Readiness Certificate is another example of a test by a non-profit firm that promises to assess the skills of graduates.

“This will be nationally normed,” Poliakoff told The Wall Street Journal. “It will give individuals and colleges a chance to see how they measure up in these core skills against institutions or individuals throughout the nation.”