Monday, May 4, 2009

College Graduates and Their Skill Set

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the video 2 Million Minutes. It compares students from high schools in the U.S., China and India. And while I agree with the fundamental idea - that U.S. students need to be more aware of and better equipped to participate in the global economy - I thought the methodology could have been better.

To the methodology, I found the comparison of a very large U.S. suburban public high school, a middling (by our standards) Chinese high school, and a small private school in India to be unfortunate. I won't go so far as to say it was comparing apples to oranges, but limes, oranges and grapefruit may be appropriate.

The video does point out that, in many technical aspects, students from the Chinese and Indian high schools were more proficient than their U.S. counterparts. And given the frequent reminders of how U.S. students compare to other students in math and science, I will concede the point. My experience, while certainly not damning of the U.S. system in any way, would indicate that we could do better. Regardless, the inference is that the students in China and India are better prepared for college and career than are the U.S. students. I'm not sure that's a fair assumption because much can happen in four or five years of undergraduate education, both good and bad.

Now we can get to the spark for this post. This morning's issue of The Washington Post contained this article.

And while it spoke about university-level graduates, the story was still intriguing. The short version is that, at least in India, some students are graduating from some universities without some fundamental skills. These include basic communicating, problem-solving and, I presume, other "soft skills." It seems "skills" is seen as déclassé.

After finishing the article I was reminded of something a colleague in Chicago once said. He told me that if all that was sought was technical proficiency, there were a multitude of candidates that could be hired out of any major university's graduating class. What was tough was finding one who could write clearly and simply, work well with others on problems, and speak to a wide variety of audiences and still be understood.

I wish there was a comparison to U.S. and Chinese university graduates to draw a proper comparison. And while not totally negating the 2mm video and allowing for differences between high school and college, the Post article implies that "hard skills" are not the total package.

I know this post rambled over a wide area, but what do you think? Are you familiar with the video? What do you think is the "comparative advantage" for U.S. students? How do U.S. students (particularly university students) stack up in the "soft skills" area?

1 comment:

John Booke said...

"Linking education to employability?" Do we have an indicator or gauge that can reliably measure this "linkage?" In America having a "certification," registration or license offers a big step to better paying jobs. But typically these cannot be earned without being "on the job" for a couple of years.