Aug 05

Designing the College Experience for Employment

We’re in the full swing of the career pathways development process. The competency model framework gives us a great way to connect learning outcomes of the curriculum to specific competencies required for the workplace. Hopefully, your team is at the stage of leveraging the research to drive decisions around the college experience, which will lead to graduate employment. If we think of the college experience as a combination of your curriculum and co-curricular activities, then we can go through the Design Phase of each.

Curriculum Development

The first thing the Design phase calls for is horizontal and vertical alignment of your collegiate programs. The Latticed (horizontal) alignment refers to the various courses, disciplines and degrees that you attain in a particular program. Stacked alignment (vertical) refers to competencies built upon pre-existing knowledge and/or prior competencies. It is easy to design vertical program or all-encompassing horizontal programs, but proper balance is needed for employers to value the education provided.

Last week, we broke down the competency model of Nursing. The lattice and stacked academic map of the programs available for nurses is shown below for your institution to get an idea of the blueprint to be created for each of your programs.


User friendly academic maps provide clear guidance about the scope and sequence of courses required to earn a credential for transfer to a baccalaureate program or entry into the labor market. It also shows what must be designed to earn credentials as quickly, and at as little cost, as possible. All education should lead to employment, hence the arrows moving down towards to the bottom of this academic map. Lateral career paths, such as the progression from entry-level certification to advanced bachelor level certification keep individuals employed and companies growing.

As you continue to evolve the programs, your students will be able to professionally grow into roles that employers need. Students like academic maps because they provide all the information needed to be prepared when it comes to connecting their coursework to employment.

Co-Curricular Enhancements

Along with instructional support, co-curricular activities aligned with classroom learning and career interests provides the higher order of alignment with employer’s demand from their talent. Identified co-curricular enhancements that are integrated in the pathway blueprint creates value and your students will be thankful for the experience.

Infusing career assessment and exploration throughout the student pathway, as well as aligning classroom and supplemental instruction, and creating communities for students and faculty can learn from one another outside the classroom will lead to an enhanced co-curricular experience. While work based learning may provide the most real experience for your students, other co-curricular activity such as studying abroad, skill building workshops, and projects/research can go a long way too.

Two Key Insights for University Leaders

1. Embrace Constant Change.
In software development, agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. Teams embrace change, accepting the idea that requirements will evolve throughout a particular project or course. It is understood that ‘use cases’ evolve over time, so the product development process should constantly flow through the cycle of Build-Measure-Learn (a common process for technology companies) to ensure it is ahead.  When executing however, one must reverse the order.  We ask “what do we want to learn?” – “how will we measure what we’re trying to learn?” – And “what should we build to accomplish our objective?”

In the rapidly changing global environment, your designed curricula and competency models should be revisited and updated often. Challenge your university to be flexible and develop processes that allow all of the stakeholders to adapt quickly based on new insights from the market. Employer demand should inform the academic maps, which are living documents. Continuously searching for, considering, and incorporating technology-enabled enhancements in pathway development process to support delivery is very necessary in our data driven world.

2. Assess Key Performing Indicators to Meet Proficiency Milestones

Developing a habit to report and analyze Key Performance Indicator (KPI) data at the end of each academic period is important for continuous improvement. Knowing what KPIs to follow is just as important as staying disciplined to the process of collecting KPIs. You can organize KPIs into three categories that provide colleges with current and historical information.

Early activity-based metrics, such as program of study selection, course enrollment, and courses completed/credits earned in the first term to measure the extent to which students are starting off right.

Medium term indicators, such as courses completed/credits earned in the first year and fall to fall retention, to assess student persistence and progression.

Longer term indicators, such as credential and total credits earned, to measure the efficacy of completion for well-suited employment.

Following these KPIs and hitting proficiency milestones that indicate a particular competency is sufficient for employment in the field of study will inform the strategy to evolve your career pathways over time.  I often have a set of “critical” KPIs which are leading rather than lagging indicators of success.  This helps with early problem detection.

Get Started. See What Happens.

Let’s fundamentally redesign the way your college advises and supports students to ensure they have the information, skills, and tools they need to be successful in college and life. Focus initially on programs of study with the highest enrollment or ones that were known to have problems. Over time, expand academic maps to cover programs that represent the majority of students enrolled. Anticipate pushback from faculty because of the potential to change their teaching materials. Realize the value of advisors who have practical experience helping students navigate the career search and include them in subsequent reviews of the academic curriculum. Finally, and most importantly, look at what employers are demanding from your graduates in the process of developing your college experience.

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