EDITORIAL: Job skills and a degree shouldn’t be mutually exclusive

While many college students are already worried about their employment prospects, another obstacle they could face is not having the skills for the jobs they want. 

As disheartening as it sounds, having a degree doesn’t necessarily mean graduates are ready for a job to which they thought years of study and student loans would lead them. According to an April report by Northeastern University, almost 90 percent of the 500 executives surveyed believe graduates don’t have the necessary skills to be successful. 

Some of these skills include communication, a strong work ethic and the ability to learn or be trainable — all of which a student would hope they’ve achieved when adjusting to college’s demands. 

As reported online by Time last week, some students pay up to $3,000 for a boot camp course in skills training. A columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education even suggested the bachelor’s degree should be completely redesigned to accommodate training. But though these skills are in high demand, a middle ground should be met so students can get the most out of their degrees while also meeting the expectations of future employers. 

According to a study on business leaders’ attitudes about higher education by Steve Farkas of Public Agenda, colleges are left to blame for not addressing this skill gap in their programs. 

However, one major worry with colleges focusing on skills, especially for liberal arts programs, is that critical thinking skills will be neglected in favor of knowing how to use an Excel spreadsheet. But this shouldn’t have to be the case. 

While a bachelor’s degree may have been designed to give students a general education without specific skills training, as discussed in the Chronicle’s column, the degree doesn’t necessarily have to change in order to encourage students to grasp job skills. 

Without taking away from the fundamentals built into a bachelor’s program, schools should offer more in terms of developing career skills for students. While many universities such as USF offer internships and service programs to boost experiential learning, more needs to be done. 

Other ways students can access skills preparation is by online training, certificate programs, and webinars, suggested in a recent CNN article. 

As discussed in Time, advocates of the liberal arts worry skill preparation turns colleges into vocational training. However, experiential learning is a necessary outlet for students to practice skills for the degrees they’re working toward without drastically changing the structure of the bachelor’s. 

One suggestion by the Chronicle is to make the bachelor’s consist, ideally, of one year of general education and then a program of differing lengths specific to a discipline, suggesting one year for English or history and three for computer science. This suggestion, however, isn’t necessary to improve the skill sets of students while they simultaneously work toward their degree. 

While one can argue the only outcome of these programs is to show employers one is competent enough for a position with tangible evidence, many employees feel training in a certain skill is more valued by their employer than a college education, as a survey by job listing site Glassdoor revealed. 

It’s clearly important for students to try to expand their skill set, but in doing so, they don’t have to lose sight of the disciplines they study and the different type of thinking that goes on in the classroom in favor of it.