Skills in Higher Education Many Students Essay

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Skills in Higher Education

Many students come to college and find they lack the basic study and time management skills necessary to succeed. Others seem to find the challenges of higher education a better match for their own skill set. How can we understand which skills matter the most? As people go through life, they invariably develop a set of skills. Some of these skills may be considered innate, or natural, while others are more likely learned. Part of what makes people so different from one another are these different skills they hold; some may prove skilled at meticulous, detail-oriented craft work while others may be in possession of skills for visioning longer term political strategy. This essay begins with an overview of personal skills and qualities, and moves on to identify more clearly which skills have been shown to be the most useful for successful learning in higher education. From there, the essay will summarize recent research on the skills gap that educators have seen in the classroom, and will then offer an action plan for bridging that gap.

Personal Skills

Skills are not the same as personality. A person may be kind or funny or aggressive, but the skill set that contributes to those personality attributes is somewhat different. For example, if a person is considered kind, s/he probably has skills in reading nonverbal cues from others, in identifying personal needs and meeting them, and in personal interaction. In this way, moving past the more easily identifiable personal qualities into an analysis of the skills that underlie those traits can be revealing.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Skills in Higher Education Many Students Come Assignment

Career counselors spend a great deal of time trying to measure and assess individual skills. They tend to believe that people are endowed, either through genetics or life experiences, with a set of skills that naturally predisposes them to succeed in certain careers while they may struggle in others. Matching people with their ideal job path often begins with an assessment of skills. For example, at Purdue University, the career counseling office begins by asking students to conduct an "inventory" of their personal skills. A list of 132 skills is provided; some of the skills listed are concrete and based on work experience, such as "administering medication." Others are more abstract and may correspond better to personality traits, for example: "analyzing problems," "resolving conflicts," and "thinking in a logical manner" (Job Skills Checklist, 2010).

Skills Necessary for Success in Higher Education

What skills are the most important for assuring success in higher education? Scholars disagree. Some scholars focus on the skills that will benefit the student not only while s/he is in school, but more importantly will carry over into that student's search for a job. Other scholars are concerned primarily with basic skills, such as study skills, time management, and basic math, literacy, and science knowledge. Still others focus on the challenges of a modern world including technology, globalization, and leadership.

The National Education Association, arguably the highest authority on the subject, argues that necessary skills in the 21st century can be broken down into these categories: core subjects, 21st century content (e.g. global awareness, civic literacy), learning and thinking skills (e.g. critical thinking, creativity), information technology, and life skills (e.g. ethics, accountability). (NEA, 2010).

While some basic abilities to retain and interpret information have remained constant, today's college students need to be proficient with so-called "information skills" in an internet age. The Society of College, National and University Libraries (2003) argue that students need skills both with information itself and with information technology that they will use throughout their college years and beyond. Information skills are grouped into seven "headline" skills that include such abilities as recognizing the need for information, constructing strategies for locating information, accessing information, and applying that information to an organized task. Information technology skills that SCONUL deems essential are basic skills (such as the use of a keyboard and mouse), standard software skills (such as the use of word processing and spreadsheets), and network application skills (such as the use of the internet and web browsers).

Skills Gap

No matter which skills rise the top of the priority list, almost everyone seems to agree that students in the U.S. aren't mastering those skills at an acceptable rate. One of the consequences of our unprepared student body is an under-performing workforce. Among the skills that entry-level employees are consistently shown to lack are reading proficiency, technical aptitude, and quantitative comprehension (Daggett). In addition to these basic skills, students are often missing skills that enable them to apply and utilize information to the task at hand. Students need not only concrete knowledge but also, and perhaps more critically, process and application skills.

Another dimension of the skills gap stems from the inaccessibility of higher education to a segment of the population. Recent research in California, for example, showed that the state faces a shortage of one million college graduates to meet employment needs (PPIC, 2010). This skills gap is critically important. Whether recent graduates haven't gained the skills they need during college, or whether adults were unable to afford college at all, "communities, states, regions, and entire nations pay a heavy price when businesses cannot find or equip employees with the right skills for critical jobs." (ASTD, p. 4)

Action Plan

Part of the problem may be that schools are stuck teaching curricula developed years ago in a world that is changing rapidly. For example, "our schools remain deeply entrenched in teaching discrete subjects, while the real world requires the ability to apply interdisciplinary knowledge." (Daggett, p. 3). Thus, part of the solution must rest with schools and curricula. Among the reforms recommended by the National Education Association are curricula that specifically focus on integrating "21st century skills" into the three core subjects (math, reading, science) (NEA 2010). In order to allow schools to re-vamp their curricula, they need both policy guidance and money. Therefore, funding should be provided to states with clear curriculum reform guidance that focuses on modernizing skills for students. States may be encouraged to undertake these reforms by programs that reward successful efforts through increased funding or educational technology resources; those successful states may also be held up as models so that other states can replicate their approach.

Making college affordable and accessible to a wider group of applicants is another effort that will shrink the skills gap. This means providing better financial aid to struggling students, but it also means providing remedial education to high school graduates that are poorly equipped to learn at a higher level. These remedial services should begin in high school and continue through college, effectively supporting students with poor skills so that they may advance through their education and ultimately land in the workforce as a productive employee.

Since the skills gap doesn't stop at schools, but continues to impact businesses, the next step of the action plan will focus on better integration of education with the critical skills and competencies that business leaders identify. Including business leaders in the educational policy and planning conversation would go a long way toward creating curricula that prepares students not just for school, but also for their lives after school.

As with any action plan, ongoing monitoring and communication is essential for success. To this end, standardized tests have been used to measure progress over time and compare regional results. These tests are very controversial and may do more harm than good, as they force teachers to "teach to the test" which may result in a classroom focus on knowledge and facts rather than process and critical thinking. If standardized tests are going to be continued, they should be reformed to better address NEA's 21st century skill set.

Finally, people must begin to think of themselves as lifelong learners. Higher education doesn't end with… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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