Historically black colleges ahead on US graduate career readiness

Annual NSSE survey of 400,000 US students finds gap between high confidence in job preparation and weaker assessment of skills

November 29, 2018
Graduates

US university students, especially those attending historically black institutions, feel that they are getting well-prepared for the workplace, according to the nation’s leading annual survey of student attitudes.

At the same time, according to the latest National Survey of Student Engagement, US college students don’t seem to be making much gain in confidence in their ability to solve real-world problems.

That stagnation in growth is “a little concerning”, apparently reflecting a US higher education experience that is putting more attention on helping students to find jobs but perhaps not enough on their longer-term success, said Jillian Kinzie, associate director of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and an author of the study.

The NSSE survey, organised by the School of Education at Indiana University, Bloomington, involved 400,000 students this year at more than 500 US institutions. It consists of a 15-minute questionnaire offered in the spring to a mix of freshers and seniors, and serves as a key element in many institutional rankings.

The nation’s 100 or so colleges that have traditionally served black populations got some of the most encouraging news, with their students describing high satisfaction with their job preparation experiences.

Black freshers at such colleges took greater advantage of career preparation resources and expressed greater certainty about their career goals than their peers at colleges with predominantly white enrolments. Lower-ranked science students at historically black colleges also reported getting more career advice than those at largely white institutions.

Across all institutions, more than 90 per cent of seniors expressed confidence that they had learned career-relevant material. Arts and sciences majors were far more likely to say that their career plans had changed during college, and expressed less confidence than others did in those career plans.

The annual surveys began in 2000, though many of the questions on career preparation were new this year as part of a regular NSSE practice of adding and testing out new areas of inquiry. Among the questions with longer track records, this year’s students showed growing levels of confidence in their ability to understand people from other backgrounds.

The lack of growth in the percentage of college students confident in their ability to solve real-world problems could reflect a system of US higher education where meaningful real-world job experience is still not sufficiently commonplace, according to Dr Kinzie. She described separate NSSE research showing that “co-op” job programmes, internships or even senior capstone projects do a lot to foster that confidence.

That kind of relevant experience “is probably one of the most important things that students should leave college with”, Dr Kinzie said.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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