is a former accreditor who has pushed for more transparency
in higher education, including for regional accreditors to publicly post reports and decision letters.
In recent years Wolff has led QA Commons
, which offers certifications to ensure that postsecondary programs prepare students for employability. The group analyzes what is being taught in relation to soft skills at the program level. And it pushes back on arguments about “vocationalizing the curriculum,” arguing that soft skills are essential and too often lacking among recent hires in the workforce.
Nearly all faculty members say they teach these skills, Wolff says. But that instruction largely is conducted in an academic or technical context, rather than through work-based learning, internships, work-based exercises and simulations, or through student engagement with employers.
“First-generation and underrepresented students have limited notions of careers and little awareness of the skills they bring to their programs,” says Wolff, who founded QA Commons and will step down from leading the group this month. “Thus, the connection to career services and the role of faculty in helping students understand their career options are more important now than ever before.”
QA Commons has analyzed roughly 75 programs at 28 institutions, including those offered by public colleges and universities in Kentucky
. Kentucky’s Murray State University is the first to have at least one program from all of its colleges participate in the group’s employability certification process.
“We are trying to explicitly bridge the perceived gap between the world of work and baccalaureate degree holders regarding overall employability skills,” says Tim Todd
, the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We want to show that Murray State’s academic programs place a distinctive focus on employability.”
Faculty and the EScan
is associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Research and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Institute at Indiana University’s School of Education. She worked with QA Commons to develop a new employability scan
for faculty members and administrators, to see how academic programs stack up on employability outcomes.
“The EScan offers a good first step to align curriculum and practices with employability goals,” says Kinzie. “It can help guide departments in their efforts to partner with workforce needs, and to do what’s best for their academic programs and graduates.”
After using the EScan, some programs in Kentucky discussed increasing opportunities for early internships, or short field-based experiences in key courses. One program discovered comprehensive internship evaluations that faculty could study to better prepare students for internships and employment. Another is planning to invest in alumni data about careers and in connecting more alums to their program through speaking invitations and internship opportunities.
Kinzie says the process has revealed calls for more structured connections between academic programs and career service professionals:
Some programs reflected that they have very limited information from career services about how their students utilized career services or placement, how well prepared they were, or how well they performed in campus-based interviews. Career service units have untapped information about graduates that programs would benefit from knowing, but there is no systematic way for programs to get this information.