From Specific Competencies to Career Pathways

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Recently, some faculty and staff colleagues at Florida Memorial University submitted a proposal to compete for a Career Pathways grant. The purpose of this national competition was to encourage institutions to partner with business and industry leaders to refine academic programs, curricular, and co-curricular experiences to assure that students leave with competencies needed in specific workforces and careers. The grant’s overarching assumption is that more collaboration between industry leaders and faculty would lead to clearer career pathways for students from academic programs to current and emerging disciplines/workforce needs.

While this, in itself, is not a new idea, the grantors appear to be echoing the sentiments of many students, parents, employers, and taxpayers regarding the thorny transitions from academic degree programs to desired employment.

Ironically, nearly a thousand years ago or so, it was common for younger persons seeking to acquire specific competencies to work alongside skilled craftsmen until they could demonstrate mastery. Thus, there was a closer and more discernible link between specialized knowledge, experiential learning, and competencies related to entrance into specific professions and trades.

Nearly a millennium later,  after the multiplication of universities, degree programs, certifications, accreditation organizations, unions, and more formalized apprenticeship and internship programs, the link between learner and mastery of specific competencies seems to have eroded. Educators and policy analysts regularly point out varying disconnects between the learning outcomes of high school and the admissions requirements for college. Others note similar disconnects between college degree outcomes and competencies needed for admission into well-paying jobs.

Probably because of the costs involved for individuals and families in pursuing a college education, the expectation is that the investment will guarantee the acquisition of specific competencies that in turn will lead to well-paying careers and middle-class lifestyles.

According to some,  “credentialing” has gone amok in the 21st century. Instead of facilitating a clear pathway from higher education to a career, some colleges and universities have been viewed as generating a proliferation of degrees that load students with irrelevant courses, leaving them with burgeoning debt, and not closer to well-paying careers. Further, families have observed that students seeking entrance into specific careers and the job market, in general, find themselves confused and facing what many view as a fragmented array of educational options and undefined competencies from secondary school through advanced education.

Education stakeholders such as the Lumina Foundation, America Council on Education, and the Lilly Foundation, to name a few, have sought to increase transparency and clarity in credentialing in higher education by engaging in a national dialogue about the need for clearer paths from secondary schools to specific careers.

Thus, the work by faculty and staff at Florida Memorial University to clearly describe degree competencies and engage in dialogues with industry representatives is a strong step in the right direction.

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