College Curriculum Competencies and Skills Former Students Found Essential to Their Careers
Zekeri, Andrew A., College Student Journal
In this paper, I examine college curriculum competencies and skills acquired in college education that former students report as most essential to improve their career experiences. Multivariate analysis indicates that despite the technological changes occurring in places of work, skills in oral communication, written communication, public speaking, motivating and managing others, and effective group leadership are most essential for career improvement. Other skills former students found essential for career development are skill in finance and cost management, negotiating employees/employer differences, and handling consumer/customer relations.
Innovation in technology, changes in the business world, globalization, and the increasing diversity of the workforce may be altering the kinds of college competencies and general skills universities and colleges are being called to deliver. Further, college graduates typically find themselves in the center of economic, political, and social realities that define our complex global world. Thus, education at all institutions (universities and community colleges) must address the diverse demands placed on graduates because competencies and skills needed for effective functioning in a global society and in workplaces may be changing. The nature of these changes are such that training in higher institutions must be extended beyond the narrowly focused, job-specific technical training orientation that has typified many programs at many universities. If the educational system is to effectively prepare graduates to fill job requirements in the 21st century, curricula must change to reflect the dynamic needs of modem industries in the information age.
The purpose of this paper is to examine college curriculum competencies and skills former students report as most essential to their career development. My assumption is that knowledge about general educational competencies and skills former students found essential to their careers would be useful to college faculty and policy makers who represent accrediting associations for constructing effective curricula. Further, the more that is known about general educational competencies and skills businesses expect their new employees to have, and the more they are taken into account in curriculum development and reform, the more competitive college graduates will be in the labor market of the future.
Data for this analysis are from a study of former students who graduated from Southern Land-Grant Universities. The Research Project (Occupational Career Paths of Former Students in Southern Land-Grant Universities) examined the actual labor market experiences of former students after graduation. Using the Total Design Method (Dillman 1978) a questionnaire was sent to all former students located. The survey focused on former students' background information, educational attainment, career mobility, college curriculum competencies and skills, opinions about agricultural careers and personal characteristics. The questionnaire with an explanatory cover letter and return stamped envelope, were sent to former students from Alabama A & M University, Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee, Tuskegee University, and Auburn University. Out of the 409 former students relocated, 291 from Auburn University and University of Tennessee (the 1862 Land-Grant Universities in the sample) returned complete questionnaires. The current analysis focuses on these 291 former students from the two traditional (1862) white land-grant universities.
General college curriculum competencies are skills obtained from a wide variety of courses. Former students were asked to rate 15 action competencies faculty often identify as important aspects of college education with respect to how much the competencies are needed in their occupations and careers. The question asked was: "To improve your own career experiences, how would you rate the extent to which you needed or did not need to acquire the following competencies and skills in your college education?" Five items pertain to communication and leadership skills, three each to group organizational skill and management skills and quantitative analysis techniques. A five-point scale was used as follows: (1) not needed, (2) somewhat needed (3) much needed, (4) essential, and (5) not sure.
Agricultural competencies refer to skills taught in subject areas relating to different facets of agriculture. For these competencies, respondents were asked to rank 23 skills perceived by agricultural faculty to be minimum skills and knowledge most agricultural students should possess. The question asked was "How would you rate the extent to which you needed or did not need the following types of knowledge from your college agricultural courses for your career?' Included were eight plant and soil science, three animal science, three forestry, and six agricultural economics competencies. Three other competencies indicated a broad general agricultural base were included. They pertained to "awareness of the world food problem", "ability to identify major agronomic crops grown in the U.S,", and "knowledge of agricultural mechanics". A five-point scale was used as follows: (1) not needed, (2) somewhat needed (3) much needed, (4) essential, and (5) not sure.
In the first phase of the analysis, using Statistical Packages for the Social Sciences (SPSS), descriptive statistics are used to ascertain general college curriculum competencies and skills former students found to be most essential to their career development. Second, factor analysis is employed to ascertain the minimum number of factors that can account for the observed covariation among specific agricultural and general action competencies. Factor analysis is used as an expedient way of determining a smaller number of constructs that will be interchangeable with the general education and agricultural Liker-type items. A statistical indication of the extent to which each item is correlated with each factor is given by the factor loading. In other words, the higher the factor loading, the more the particular item contributes to the given factor. Thus, factor analysis also explicitly takes into consideration the fact that the items measures factor unequally
College Curriculum Competencies and Skills.
Average scores for all 291 respondents range from a low of 2.43 for "skills in basic statistical techniques" to a high of 3.49 for "skills in oral communication" (Table 1). The eight communication skills and group organizational skills are scored high, but they range widely from 3.07 to 3.49. The need for the two quantitative analyses skills, computer and statistics, are scored lower than all other skills. Next, average scores of three management skills--negotiating employee/employer differences (2.84); handling consumer/customer relations (2.80); and finances and cost management (2.80) are scored significantly lower than all of the communication or organizational skills. These findings indicate that despite the technological changes occurring in places of work, communication skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking effectively are expected to remain critically important to the work force of the 21st century. Students need speaking and listening skills that will help them in other courses and in their careers. The emphasis on communication skills should create a need for more broadly educated agricultural and other scientists and thereby prepare them for the twenty-first century. Writing should be stressed throughout the different curriculum areas. A quality curriculum should advocate that learners write across the curriculum because what is emphasized as objectives in school can be used in society (Stark and Lattuca, 1996; Marlow, 1995).
College Agricultural competencies
Average scores for agricultural competencies of all former students range from a low of 1.51 on "awareness of world food problems" to a high of 2.26 on "knowledge of agricultural chemicals and their use" (Table 2). As would be expected, the specialized competency need scores are lower. In fact, the highest agricultural competency need score (2.26) in Table 2 is lower than the lowest action competency score (2.43) in Table 1. The agricultural scores are also more tightly clustered compared to the general educational competencies.
Nine of the agricultural competency items have mean scores clustered at the top of alumni' need list. They include three livestock production items (three of the top four). The remaining 14 items tend to be more specialized skills that are of great importance to certain occupations, but of little concern to agricultural occupations in general.
Finally, broader global competencies such as "awareness of world food problem" or "knowledge of U.S. agricultural policy", and highly specific technological skills such as "ability to evaluate agricultural investment alternatives", "ability to calibrate planters and spraying equipment", and "ability to estimate the quantity of forest products on a site" all rank among the lest needed competencies. Despite the low ranking of these technical skills, the contention is technical skills, broadly defined as the specific knowledge and capabilities necessary to function in any career or occupation are fundamental to the training needs of workers for the 21st century. However, curricula should stress basic communication competencies such as reading, written and oral. These are essential to the education of all professionals based on the assessments of former students now in the labor force.
Factor analysis of competencies:
Dimensionality of the competencies is explored by factor analyzing all items using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 11.0). Varimax rotations with iterations and with 1.0 remaining in the diagonals of the correlations matrix was used in this exploratory factor analysis because identification of the basic structuring of variables into theoretically meaningful sub-dimensions is the primary concern of the research. Further, varimax rotation is the most widely used. The varimax method rotates all factors until the factor loadings on all factors attain maximum variance. This means that each factor has items with either very high or very low loadings within the constraints imposed by the total variance of the loadings. Since this solution tends to give the most satisfactory alignment of factors with clusters of items, give the requirements of factor independence, it seems the most suitable solution of factoring.
Results of the orthogonally (uncorrelated) rotated factor loadings show that the 12 general educational competencies have loadings greater than .5 on at least one of four factors that have eigenvalues greater than 1.0. The criteria of eigenvalue greater than 1 is used because, since factor analysis works on standardized items, the variance of a single item is 1. Therefore, a factor whose eigenvalue is less than 1 explains no more variance than a single item. Further, decreasing eigenvalues usually mark the end of the identification for meaningful factors. In evaluating contributions of the items to the factors, the criterion of factor loadings greater than .5 is used because of the small sample size.
The orthogonally rotated factor loadings indicate that skills in oral communication, written communication, public speaking, motivating and managing others, and effective group leadership unambiguously load on the first factor, which explains 35.20 percent of the total variance (Table 3). The factor is designated as communication skill because it is dominated by oral communication, written communication, and public speaking. The relatively strong statistical associations between skills in oral communication, skills in written communication and this factor indicate that these students value the importance of communication skill to their career.
The second factor is dominated primarily by skill in finance and cost management, negotiating employees/employer differences, and handling consumer/customer relations. The factor is interpreted as managerial skill because it measures the extent to which these students need managerial skills on the job. The factor explained 12.20 percent of the total variance. The third factor is dominated by skills in setting organizational goals and objectives and project or program evaluation. This factor is interpreted as general measure of organizational and problem solving skills because it measures the extent to which the students are good in organizing and solving problems. The forth factor is dominated by skills in basic statistical techniques and computer use. The factor is interpreted as analytical skill and it explained only about 7.80 percent of the variance. Looking at the factor loadings with the items in the same order as they appear in Table 1 indicates that communications skills are the most needed skills and they load on the first factor. This finding indicates that in the labor force of the future, college graduates should be able to develop healthy interpersonal relations with others, managing conflicts that might arise along the way, persuading, informing, or relating to others.
As with the general educational competencies, the professional agricultural competencies were factor analyzed. Four orthogonal factors summarized 72 percent of the variance (Table 4). All six plant and soil science competencies loaded heavily on factor one matrice. Factor one also included moderate to heavy loadings for knowledge of environmental effects of water management on water quality and knowledge of landscape design and selection of plant materials. Similarly the animal science and forestry factors on both scales included heavy loadings for their respective competencies. Comparing the results of the factor analysis to that of Table 3 indicates that competencies in greatest need are that of plant and soil sciences and animal science. These competencies are in the same factors.
The analysis revealed three points of general agreement. First, broadly based liberal arts and basic science competencies are key requirements. Second, the student identified communication skill, critical thinking and problem solving as essential learning skills. Lastly, there is an undeniable need for competency in professional areas.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The purpose of this analysis is to examine general college curriculum competencies and skills former students found essential to their careers. Descriptive statistics and factor analysis are used for the analysis.
Concerning general educational competencies or basic academic skills, there is a high degree of agreement on the types of skills needed by these former students to improve their career experiences. The key skills needed to improve their careers are oral communication, written communication, problem solving techniques, motivating and managing others, and setting personal and organizational goals. These competencies should be considered essential or basic skills for college graduates at the end of their general education requirements because the results of my study are supportive of previous studies( Rubin and Morreale 1996; Nelson and Gilbert 1988; Hoerner 1991; Zekeri and Wheelock 1995; Hoerner 1991; Pestillo and Yokich 1988; Litzenberg and Schneider 1987; 1988). Communication and interpersonal relationship skills, problem solving and critical thinking are essential in the work force as we begin the 21st century.
In sum, the sense from these former college students is that, communication skills (speaking, reading and writing), are expected to remain critically important in the work force of the future. Jobs or careers of the future demand new higher order basic skills of employees, that is, thinking, problem solving, and the ability to communicate effectively. Aspects may include effective and appropriate use of language; careful editing and proof reading; revising and expanding one's work; clear and well organized presentation of materials orally or visually and thoughtful, careful listening. These skills are minimal expectations necessary for effective functioning in society and in the workplace.
Regarding professional agricultural competencies, many of the graduates rated most of the agricultural competencies as not needed in their current careers or on their jobs. One explanations of this low rating accorded agricultural competencies for current occupation or careers may lie in the academic majors themselves. College graduates in a specific field would be expected to have developed more skills in subject areas directly associated with their majors. This low rating may also indicate that many of the agricultural competencies to which agricultural graduates are exposed have few general applications to other career areas. One reason technical agricultural skills tend to receive primary emphasis in practice is that they represent the obvious focus and mission of land-grant programs. However, technical skills, broadly defined as the specific knowledge and capabilities necessary to function on a job, are fundamentals to the training needs of the work force of the futures. Given the current pace of technological change in a global society, a significant challenge remains to keep abreast of emerging technologies, techniques, and trends. Without any doubt, technical skills are foundational to work or any occupation.
In conclusion, this research provides several important lessons for policy makers, college faculty, deans and directors of resident education responsible for curriculum design and reform. As the data indicate, former college students consistently rated communication skills as most essential to their career experiences. Though technical skills are currently the primary area of concentration in many colleges and universities, communication skills (speaking, reading and writing effectively) should also receive top priority. Considerable emphasis should be placed on teaching basic communication skills because collectively, college graduates expressed considerable interest in communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills. Students should pursue excellence in communication competencies that are essential to the transfer of knowledge from classroom practice to real-life problems.
TABLE 1 AVERAGE NEED SCORE FOR 13 ACTION COMPETENCIES BY FORMER STUDENTS (N=291) MEAN ACTION COMPETENCIES SCORE Skill in oral communication 3.49 Skill at using problem solving techniques 3.36 Skill in written communication 3.25 Skill in motivating and managing others 3.27 Skills in personal time management 3.27 Skills in setting personal goal 3.18 Skill in setting organizational goals & objectives 3.15 Skill in effective group leadership 3.07 Skill in project and/or program evaluation 2.90 Skill in public speaking 2.81 Skill in negotiating employee/employer differences 2.84 Skill in finance and cost management 2.80 Skill in handling consumer/customer relations 2.80 Skill in computer use 2.54 Skill in basic statistical techniques 2.43 TABLE 2 AVERAGE NEED SCORE FOR 23 AGRICULTURAL COMPETENCIES BY FORMER STUDENTS (N=291) MEAN AGRICULTURAL COMPETENCIES SCORE Knowledge of agricultural chemicals and their 2.26 Knowledge of plant nutrient requirements 2.21 Knowledge of environmental effects of water 2.16 management on water quality Knowledge of agricultural economics 2.11 Knowledge of distinctive characteristics 2.13 of annual, biennial, and perennial plants Knowledge of efficient production in agriculture 1.99 Knowledge of micro-organism functions in soils 2.03 Ability to interpret and use soil test results 1.99 Knowledge of basic agricultural production 1.93 Knowledge of economically important forest 1.95 Ability to evaluate agricultural investment 1.85 Knowledge of natural resource property rights 1.83 Knowledge of agricultural mechanics 1.83 Ability to calibrate planters and spraying 1.86 Ability to identify major agronomic crops grown 1.78 Knowledge of livestock/poultry bread and 1.68 Knowledge of basic methods for controlling 1.66 livestock/poultry diseases Ability to identify basic feed nutrient 1.65 requirements for livestock and poultry Knowledge of landscape design and 1.74 selection of plant materials Knowledge of U.S. agricultural policy 1.69 Ability to set up farm record system 1.65 Ability to estimate the quantity of forest 1.75 Awareness of world food problem 1.51 TABLE 3 VARIMAX ROTATED FACTOR MATRIX OF COLLEGE ACTION COMPETENCIES (N=291) ACTION COMPETENCIES Principal Component Factors I II III IV Skill in oral communication 0.80 0.17 0.22 0.10 Skill at using problem solving techniques 0.22 0.27 0.55 0.27 Skill in written communication 0.75 0.03 0.09 0.33 Skill in motivating and managing others 0.53 0.52 0.32 0.11 Skill in setting organizational goals and objectives 0.18 0.25 0.74 0.06 Skill in effective group leadership 0.59 0.32 0.42 0.03 Skill in project and/or program evaluation 0.13 0.04 0.86 0.21 Skill in public speaking 0.76 0.10 0.07 0.27 Skill in negotiating employees/ employer differences 0.14 0.74 0.23 0.13 Skill in finance and cost management 0.00 0.80 0.03 0.14 Skill in handling consumer/customer relations 0.16 0.66 0.16 0.11 Skill in computer use 0.13 0.07 0.02 0.77 Skill in basic statistical techniques 0.08 0.01 0.19 0.80 Eigenvalues 4.58 1.58 1.25 1.01 Total variance explained 35.20 12.20 9.60 7.80 Construct: Factor 1 = Communication skill Factor 2 = Analytical skill Factor 3 = Organizational skill Factor 4 = Managerial skill TABLE 4 VARIMAX ROTATED FACTOR MATRIX OF COLLEGE AGRICULTURAL COMPETENCIES AND SKILLS (N=291) Principal Component Factors AGRICULTURAL COMPETENCIES I II III IV Knowledge of agricultural chemicals 0.76 0.22 0.32 0.06 and their Knowledge of plant nutrient 0.84 0.16 0.22 0.19 requirements Knowledge of environmental effects 0.62 0.22 0.17 0.45 of water management on water quality Knowledge of agricultural economics 0.35 0.39 0.59 0.35 Knowledge of distinctive characteristics 0.79 0.19 0.09 0.24 of annual, biennial, and perennial plants Knowledge of efficient production in 0.42 0.45 0.64 0.09 agriculture Knowledge of micro-organism functions 0.82 0.15 0.14 0.22 in soils Ability to interpret and use soil test 0.81 0.14 0.30 0.14 results Knowledge of basic agricultural 0.48 0.43 0.61 0.00 production Knowledge of economically important 0.18 0.07 0.16 0.88 forest Ability to evaluate agricultural 0.18 0.25 0.69 0.45 investment Knowledge of natural resource property 0.23 0.17 0.19 0.70 rights Knowledge of agricultural mechanics 0.43 0.19 0.64 0.11 Ability to calibrate planters and 0.71 0.05 0.49 0.00 spraying Ability to identify major agronomic 0.44 0.64 0.28 0.06 crops grown Knowledge of livestock/poultry bread 0.08 0.90 0.14 0.04 and Knowledge of basic methods for 0.07 0.91 0.08 0.05 controlling livestock/poultry diseases Ability to identify basic feed nutrient 0.06 0.91 0.13 0.03 requirements for livestock and poultry Knowledge of landscape design and 0.66 0.06 0.16 0.04 selection of plant materials Knowledge of U.S. agricultural policy 0.16 0.57 0.41 0.17 Ability to set up farm record system 0.20 0.54 0.59 0.09 Ability to estimate the quantity of 0.11 0.13 0.04 0.89 forest Awareness of world food problem 0.11 0.53 0.24 0.07 Eigenvalues 10.35 3.27 1.91 1.03 Total variance Explained 45.00 14.20 8.30 4.50 Construct: Factor 1 = Plant and soil science Factor 2 = Animal science Factor 3 = Agricultural Economics Factor 4 = Forestry
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ANDREW A. ZEKERI
Department of Psychology and Sociology
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: College Curriculum Competencies and Skills Former Students Found Essential to Their Careers. Contributors: Zekeri, Andrew A. - Author. Journal title: College Student Journal. Volume: 38. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2004. Page number: 412+. © 2009 Project Innovation (Alabama). COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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