by: Ella Butler, director of Career Services and Dr. Chuck Lepper, vice president for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, Salt Lake Community College
As the Interstate Passport Network has grown, so too have students’ knowledge, understanding, and participation in the Interstate Passport program. Students and their families are learning how to leverage the opportunities provided by the Interstate Passport program to maximize cost savings, increase the mobility and transferability of credits already earned, and utilize earned credits to accelerate degree or certificate completion at member institutions.
As member institutions, we have also learned about the positive impact of the Interstate Passport program on the recruitment of prospective students, student perceptions about how “transfer friendly” our institutions are, as well as on student retention, persistence, and completion of certificates and degrees. Perhaps even more importantly, there is a growing recognition among the broader higher education community of the benefits of evidence-based student learning outcomes like those embedded in the Interstate Passport program. Of particular note is the developing interest in how these learning outcomes support the development of students’ cross-cutting skills that lead to employability and support for students’ future career success and advancement.
Among postsecondary educators, it is widely acknowledged that career readiness and employability skills are a critical part of the goals of higher education. Employers are seeking students who have these career competencies otherwise known as “soft skills” (NACE, 2017). Defined as having a balanced level of collegiality, technical skills, and emotional intelligence (NACE, 2017), soft skills are transferrable and applicable to most industries. Although knowledge-based or technical skills are often required to excel in a role, soft skills are considered the new standard. Being able to relate to one’s audience, work in a team, and problem solve are crucial characteristics for keeping and advancing in employment. In a recent report, the National Associations of Colleges and Employers (NACE) confirmed that employers are looking for leaders who can effectively demonstrate their ability to use soft skills. In conjunction with employers, NACE identifies these competencies as critical:
- Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
- Oral/Written Communications
- Digital Technology
- Professionalism/Work Ethic
- Career Management
- Global/Intercultural Fluency
So how do students achieve these skills, and how do students gain awareness of these competencies? Hopefully, students are learning these competencies in the classroom. But unless both students and teachers know what learning outcomes they are aiming for, and can articulate the purpose of those outcomes, it is impossible to ensure that the competencies will be achieved. And, that in turn, means that students won’t be able to assure employers that they have gained the soft skills that are so important for their success in the workplace.
Among the 63 Passport Learning Outcomes of Interstate Passport are many of these important soft skill outcomes. Students who earn a Passport have documentation that acknowledges that they have achieved these PLOs at transfer-level proficiency.
With employers recognizing that a degree does not necessarily equate to advanced soft skills, career readiness skills developed through programs like Interstate Passport enable employers to better identify and focus on crucial competencies for the workplace. In addition to removing the skills gap, the Interstate Passport allows for equitable access to knowledge, skills, and experiences that empower students to live productive and fulfilling lives.