March 8, 2021 by Remie Verougstraete
As director of institutional research and assessment at Texas A&M University-Central Texas (A&M-Central Texas), Paul Turcotte is dedicated to providing faculty and staff the data they need to make informed decisions. Recently, this has included a focus on surfacing the “marketable skills” taught in A&M-Central Texas programs. In part, this focus arises from one of the four goals outlined by the 60x30TX initiative: “By 2030, all graduates from Texas public institutions of higher education will have completed programs with identified marketable skills.”
To help him do this work efficiently and at scale, Turcotte partnered with Emsi on a 6-month pilot project to beta test Skillabi: a new tool that surfaces the work-relevant skills in course descriptions and syllabus documents, and shows how those skills relate to labor market demand.
Despite having limited access to an early version of the tool, Turcotte’s team derived immediate benefit from Skillabi. In a recent feedback call, he shared how this skill-surfacing work could support his institution in several key areas, from employer engagement, to student retention.
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No one knows course content better than the professor who teaches it. But sometimes, an outside perspective can help faculty take a fresh look at how they communicate that content to employers and career-focused learners.
In particular, surfacing the work-relevant skills in course descriptions and syllabus documents helps translate courses into what Turcotte calls “employer speak.”
“Skillabi is a great way to get an objective, outside perspective of the skills that are being presented in your syllabus,” said Turcotte. “it does a good job bringing forward that list of skills that are actually articulated in those documents, and then connecting them to the overall program structure.”
Equally important, Turcotte says these skills can be used to spark conversations with employers.
“The idea is that we would create these marketable skill statements with faculty members, and then we’d bring employers in and let them ask faculty about those statements” to get more detailed insight on how those skills are taught and demonstrated within the course.
As Turcotte pointed out, the principle of “continuous quality improvement” is a core value of SACSCOC, A&M-Central Texas’s accrediting body. And, continuously evaluating how the skills your institution teaches align with the (always evolving) skills employers value is a great way to demonstrate that improvement.
Skillabi helps by providing a direct comparison of the skills taught in academic offerings with the skills sought in employer job postings.
Unlike traditional labor market research tools, these skills insights are 1) dynamic and always up-to-date and 2) tailored to an institution’s existing academic offerings, making them especially actionable.
“Skillabi can help demonstrate the difference between the skills you’re hearing industry tell you that they need and what’s actually being presented in your syllabus,” said Turcotte. “This is a rich way to identify lots of improvements very quickly.”
As an upper-division university, A&M-Central Texas is keenly aware of how important it is to deliver incremental value each semester and see students all the way through to completion. According to Turcotte, developing and articulating the skill content of courses is a key way to do that:
“When you fail to continue offering skills in your coursework as you lead up to the end of your degree, you find more students leaving because they feel like, “The senior year is kind of a repeat of the junior year, and I’m not going to really spend time doing the same thing.” With Skillabi, it helps faculty articulate the additional skills that students don’t currently have, so those students have a reason to stay enrolled. So, it can affect retention rates.”
Beyond keeping students enrolled and engaged, a skillified curriculum also helps to equip them with the vocabulary and confidence to sell themselves when they get into the job market. According to Turcotte, this is one of the key underlying motivations for the skills work being done at A&M-Central Texas:
“It’s so that students can leave programs and go and confidently speak to employers about what they can do. It’s really about student confidence.”
Big picture, Turcotte also points out that surfacing work-relevant skills in academic programs is key to helping restore public confidence in the value and relevance of higher education:
“This is such an important piece of the work that we’re doing right now. The articles that you see in higher education, Chronicle of Higher Education and various other newspapers about higher education failing to demonstrate their value, it’s because of that long generational work of not trying to connect the labor market to what you get in higher education. But at the end of the day, that’s where we can best concretely demonstrate the value of higher education.”
Turcotte acknowledges that there’s more to higher education than getting a job, but has also seen that career outcomes are a top priority for many students:
“Most of our students will tell you the career is the main reason they enrolled. The other benefits of higher education, people will realize once they achieve that safety level of having the employment that they want.”
About the institution
Texas A&M University Central Texas (A&M-Central Texas) is a public university serving around 2,400 undergraduate and graduate students in Killeen, TX. The university offers junior, senior, and master’s courses in 46 academic programs. The majority of people from the surrounding counties enrolling in Texas public universities, enroll at A&M-Central Texas. The university primarily enrolls non-traditional students with an average age of 34, who attend part-time, and of which about 45% are affiliated with the U.S. military (many of them employed at nearby Fort Hood).
Interested in leveraging skill insights to improve and align your institution’s curriculum? Check out Skillabi or connect with us to see one of your programs, skillified. You can also download this case study to share with a friend.