CHARACTERISTICS OF THE STEM WORKFORCE
Ensuring a robust and diverse science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce is a critical element of our nation’s competitiveness strategy, because individuals with STEM knowledge, skills, and abilities drive the innovation that leads to new products, industries, and economic growth.1,2 There is no consensus definition of the STEM workforce—in general, these individuals either possess a STEM degree (or other credential) or are employed in a STEM or STEM-related occupation.3 Recent reports have described the heterogeneity of the STEM workforce, which typically includes professional scientists and engineers working in research and development (R&D), workers who apply STEM knowledge and skills, and workers in technologically sophisticated occupations who need a facility with STEM concepts to excel in their occupations, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.4,5,6 The STEM workforce also varies based on educational attainment, the STEM or STEM-related field in which the degree or credential was obtained, and the occupational field in which an individual works after completing his or her education.
Despite the complexity associated with defining and classifying the STEM workforce, the number of occupations requiring STEM capabilities is growing. According to the National Science Board’s 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators, between 2003 and 2010 the number of workers reporting that their job requires at least a bachelor’s-degree level of facility in STEM increased 28 percent, from 12.9 million to 16.5 million.7 When the definition of STEM workers is broadened to those outside the traditional STEM industries and those with subbaccalaureate credentials working across all fields, by the year 2011, 20 percent of all jobs in the United States (26 million) required a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field.8
Given its charge, as reflected in the statement of task, the committee elected to use its series of workshops to explore the implications of different operational definitions of a region’s STEM workforce for better aligning educational resources with regional workforce needs. The committee was interested in focusing more on how STEM skills are used in the workplace, rather
1BHEF/ACT Policy Brief (May 2014). Building the Talent Pipeline: Policy Recommendations for The Condition of STEM 2013.
2National Science Board (2015). Revisiting the STEM Workforce: A Companion to Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
5Rothwell, J. (2013). The Hidden STEM Economy. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.
6Oleson, A., M. Hora, R. J. Benbow (2014). What is a STEM Job? How Different Interpretations of the STEM Acronym Result in Disparate Labor Market Projections. The Center on Education and Work, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
7National Science Board (2015). Revisiting the STEM Workforce: A Companion to Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
8Rothwell, J. (2013). The Hidden STEM Economy. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.
than on degree attainment or occupational classification. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network Data Collection Program (O*NET) surveys workers to document the characteristics and knowledge required for their occupation. A recent report used O*NET data to advance a classification framework based on the knowledge and skills individuals need to perform their jobs, rather than simply their job function.9 This report suggested that there are two STEM economies—one closely linked with 4-year undergraduate and graduate-level education in the sciences, engineering, and medicine and the R&D processes that lead from university-based basic research to innovations and new products and technologies in the private sector. The second STEM economy comprises individuals with community college and vocational educational backgrounds whose jobs require a high level of knowledge and/or skill in a scientific or technical domain, but do not require a bachelor’s degree. Nonetheless, individuals in this economy are critical to the implementation and commercialization of innovations stemming from university-based research and contribute to the prosperity of regional economies by boosting wages. These subbaccalaureate, STEM-knowledgeable workers are a critical component of the modern STEM economy. 10
Additional research has considered how different interpretations of the STEM acronym result in different definitions of a STEM profession. Box 2-1 contains definitions of STEM-core versus STEM-related jobs and careers according to two classifications—one by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee and one by the National Science Foundation (NSF). While there are some differences in the classifications, there are many similarities in professions that require education in core STEM fields versus those that require a less intensive but still important set of education and training experiences in STEM. Moreover, the NSF definition has a general distinction in which science and engineering occupations will typically require a bachelor’s degree in a science and engineering field, while the science- and engineering-related occupations may not.11
Leveraging these prior studies, the committee employed the nomenclature of STEM broad versus STEM narrow to classify occupations in each of the five regions. The nonprofit organization Jobs for the Future (JFF) worked on behalf of the committee to develop a method for defining and identifying professions in each of those categories. Under the JFF system, STEM narrow included careers in the Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics); Technology (including computer sciences); Engineering; and Mathematics (including analytics)—with jobs in this category typically requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. The STEM broad category included all occupations that exhibit a high degree of STEM knowledge, based on the O*NET Knowledge Survey, but often did not require more than an industry certification or a 2-year associate’s degree.12
The heterogeneity of the STEM workforce and lack of consensus on how to define it has spurred debates about the level of current and future demand for STEM workers (see Box 2-2). Although this debate continues among academics and policy makers, many occupations requiring 2- or 4-year STEM degrees are growing rapidly.13,14 According to a 2012 President’s Coun-
9Rothwell, J. (2013). The Hidden STEM Economy. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.
11Oleson, A., M. Hora, R. J. Benbow (2014). What is a STEM Job? How Different Interpretations of the STEM Acronym Result in Disparate Labor Market Projections. The Center for Education and Work, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
12Defining STEM and STEM-related will always be a subjective enterprise. The committee opted to use the O*NET Knowledge Survey to assess whether certain occupations required STEM skills and knowledge, as this tool directly surveys incumbent workers to obtain information on training, education, experience, and skill-related work requirements. As such, occupations can be classified as to the level of STEM skills and knowledge they require.
13Carnevale, A.P., N. Smith, and M. Melton (2011). STEM: Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce.
14Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl (2010). Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce.
cil of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report,15 the United States will need approximately one million more STEM professionals, relative to the number that it is currently producing, if the nation is to retain its international competitiveness in science and technology and meet these workforce demands. To meet this goal, the nation needs to boost the number of students completing STEM bachelor’s degrees by about 34 percent over current rates. Critically, while fewer than 40 percent of students entering higher education STEM programs complete a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field (either switching majors or leaving higher education),16 increasing this retention rate by just 10 percentage points would itself generate three-quarters of the targeted one million additional STEM degrees needed to remain competitive.17
|U.S. Department of Laborb||National Science Foundation|
|Core-STEM||Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Information Technology Occupations:||Science and Engineering Occupations:|
|STEM-Related||Science- and Engineering-Related Occupations:||Science- and Engineering-Related Occupations:|
aTable adapted from Oleson, A., M. Hora, and R. J. Benbow (2014), What is a STEM Job? How Different Interpretations of the STEM Acronym Result in Disparate Labor Market Projections. The Center for Education and Work, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
bWithin the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee developed this classification scheme.
15President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012). Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduate with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President. Note that the analyses of STEM higher education enrollment, persistence, and completion included in the PCAST report (Appendix C) only include STEM bachelor’s degrees.
17Understanding patterns of degree completion is more complicated for students enrolled at community colleges, as they may have variable intentions and credential goals—they may be seeking a terminal 2-year degree or certificate or transfer to a 4-year institution without earning a degree. With this caveat, data suggest that about 20 percent of STEM community college students attained any STEM credential 6 years after enrollment. See: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2016). Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Diverse Student Pathways. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Some analysts contend that the United States has or will soon face a shortage of STEM workers. Some point to labor market signals such as high wages and the fact that STEM vacancies are advertised for more than twice the median number of days compared to non-STEM jobs. Other analysts note that the shortage of STEM workers is a byproduct of the ability of STEM-capable workers to “divert” into other high-skill occupations that offer better working conditions or pay. Relatedly, some say even if the supply were to increase, the United States might still have a STEM worker shortage because an abundance of high-skill workers helps drive innovation and competitiveness, and this might create its own demand.
Those analysts who contend the United States does not have a shortage of STEM workers see a different picture. They suggest that the total number of STEM degree holders in the United States exceeds the number of STEM jobs, and that market signals that would indicate a shortage, such as wage increases, have not systematically materialized. Analysts also raise concerns about labor market dynamics in academia—where a decreasing share of doctoral degree holders employed in the academic sector are tenured—and in industry—where there are reports that newly minted degree holders and foreign “guest workers” on temporary visas (e.g., H-1B, L-1) are displacing incumbent workers. A few of these analysts go as far as to argue that firms claim shortages and mismatches in the hope of lowering compensation and training costs.
Close study of the surplus-shortage question reveals that there is no straightforward “yes” or “no” answer to whether the United States has a surplus or shortage of STEM workers. The answer is always “it depends.” It depends on which segment of the workforce is being discussed (e.g., sub-baccalaureates, Ph.D.’s, biomedical scientists, computer programmers, petroleum engineers) and where (e.g., rural, metropolitan, “high-technology corridors”). It also depends on whether “enough” or “not enough” STEM workers is being understood in terms of the quantity of workers; the quality of workers’ education or job training; racial, ethnic, or gender diversity; or some combination of these considerations.
Research suggests that the first 2 years of college represent a critical period during which students, especially women and underrepresented minorities, are most likely to change majors and leave STEM fields.18,19 The most effective interventions for increasing the persistence of students in completing STEM degrees are targeted to the first 2 years of college and involve redesigning introductory STEM courses to provide more active learning and real-world problem solving, more and earlier exposure to authentic research experiences, earlier and better access to role models and mentors, and a suite of support services (e.g., campus learning communities, bridge programs).20,21,22
Educators, policy makers, industry leaders, and others recognize the importance of strong college-university-industry collaboration in supporting and promoting these interventions to in-
19Chen, X., and M. Soldner (2013). STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields. National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
20President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012). Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
21Business–Higher Education Forum (2013). The National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative. Washington, DC.
22National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2016). Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Diverse Student Pathways. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
crease the retention of STEM majors and better prepare the STEM workforce of the future. The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with a combined $7.2 trillion in annual revenues and almost 16 million employees, has called for more universities and employers to partner so they may better understand regional labor market needs and create or redesign curriculum and programs organized around those workforce needs. A recent report from the Business Roundtable notes the critical importance of employability skills and the role that applied learning experiences such as internships and apprenticeships play in strengthening pathways to STEM jobs.23 Similarly, PCAST has recommended the development and expansion of public-private partnerships to diversify and expand pathways to STEM degrees and occupations. Finally, several recent reports from the National Academies have described the need for the business community and universities to work together to ensure that universities are producing graduates with the depth of skills and knowledge required to maintain America’s competitiveness in the 21st century.24,25 There is a clear role for the business community to play in developing and supporting several of the interventions described above. Specifically, firms can provide opportunities for applied learning in the form of internships, role models, and mentors, and can assist education partners in redesigning curricula by sponsoring capstone and other real-world problem-solving projects, serving as adjunct faculty or guest lecturers, and serving as active advisors through revamped advisory boards. These collaborative activities—as the committee observed them at the five regional workshops—are described in more detail in Chapter 4.
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT ECOSYSTEMS
Institutions of higher education are drivers of regional economic development, and their presence and productivity is linked to the prosperity of the surrounding community. 26,27 Universities are essential to the creation and transfer of new knowledge that drives innovation. This knowledge moves out of the university and into broader society in several ways—through highly skilled graduates (i.e., human capital);28 academic publications; faculty consulting efforts; and the creation of new products, industries, and companies via the commercialization of scientific breakthroughs.29 Universities do much more than train workers, but providing skilled workers is one of their key functions. This is especially true for many STEM-related occupations, of which universities and colleges are the sole providers.
Colleges and universities can enhance regional economic development via their roles as an employer, purchaser (i.e., procurement of goods and services), real estate developer, workforce developer (i.e., educational programs), and through technology development and its commercialization.30,31 There is evidence to indicate that the presence of a university in a community increases
23Business Roundtable (2014). Closing America’s Skills Gap: A Vision and Action Plan.
24National Research Council (2007). Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
25National Research Council (2012). Research Universities and the Future of America. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
26Porter, M. (2007). Colleges and Universities and Regional Economic Development: A Strategic Perspective. Forum for the Future of Higher Education. Cambridge, MA.
27San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (2015). The Economic Impact of San Diego’s Research Institutions.
28Abel, J. R., and R. Deitz (2011). The Role of Colleges and Universities in Building Local Human Capital. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Current Issues in Economics and Finance 17, no. 6.
29National Research Council (2012). Research Universities and the Future of America. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
the supply of educated and skilled local college graduates who can meet the workforce needs of the region. One study, for example, suggested that the presence of a land-grant university in a metropolitan area results in 25 percent more college graduates and significantly higher wages,32 although it is important to note that human capital can be mobile and not all graduates will become part of the regional economy. Importantly, it is not the mere presence of a university that is beneficial for regional economic development. Universities must actively engage and partner with other stakeholders concerned with regional economic development; they are “most effective at shaping a local economy when they are part of a larger ecosystem of innovative activity.”33 The federal government recognizes the value and impact of these partnerships, and supports a number of programs designed to strengthen them, including the NSF’s “centers” programs, such as Engineering Research Centers and Industry University Cooperative Research Centers.34
The term ecosystem captures the elements of effective, regionally focused workforce development partnerships. Each individual partner is interconnected with others in a symbiotic relationship that is able to adapt and evolve as both inputs and desired outcomes change. A recent report that details the STEM Learning Ecosystem approach for K-12 education notes that these ecosystems “encompass schools, community settings, science centers and museums, and informal experiences at home and in a variety of environments that together constitute a rich array of learning opportunities for young people.”35 STEM Learning Ecosystems pursue several strategies that have also been shown to improve STEM retention and increase the participation and persistence of underrepresented groups at the postsecondary level.36 These include leveraging strong leadership, employing educational interventions known to be effective at strengthening STEM learning and retention, providing applied learning opportunities, and implementing a suite of support and wrap-around services for students and their families.
The committee believes that the ecosystem concept can be applied to cross-sector partnerships between business and higher education in the service of STEM workforce development and regional economic growth, a so-called STEM Workforce Development Ecosystem. In this ecosystem, actors include colleges and universities, local employers, and intermediary entities whose objective is to facilitate regional economic development. These intermediary bodies might be state or county government agencies, economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, and philanthropic foundations.
Community colleges have been the first, and thus far the only, sector (to the committee’s knowledge) to apply the ecosystem approach to STEM workforce development at the postsecondary level. In 2013 JFF and Achieving the Dream launched the Regional STEM Collaboratives Initiative, which is supporting three regional collaboratives in Ohio, Florida, and Connecticut. Each collaborative is centered on a community college and brings together local employers, state partners, community organizations, and the college’s leadership, faculty, and staff to build more effective middle-skilled STEM pathways and meet the high demand for these workers in regional labor markets.37 Importantly, these collaboratives: (1) champion the use of interventions that help students persist and complete STEM degrees and (2) have committed leaders who rec-
31University Economic Development Association and Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (2015). Higher Education Engagement in Economic Development: Foundations for Strategy and Practice.
32Moretti, E. (2013). The New Geography of Jobs. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 197.
34National Research Council (2012). Research Universities and the Future of America. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
35Traphagen, K., and S. Traill (2014). How Cross-Sector Collaborations Are Advancing STEM Learning. Los Altos, CA: The Noyce Foundation.
36President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012). Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
37Jobs for the Future and Achieving the Dream (2014). STEM Regional Collaboratives: The Opportunity.
ognize the importance of focusing efforts on strengthening those education and career pathways to meet specific regional workforce needs in STEM. The collaboratives are using real-time labor market information (RTLMI) to help them identify their region’s most pressing STEM workforce needs. RTLMI can reveal new and emerging trends in occupations for a region and offer insights into the skills, abilities, and credentials sought by regional employers. Importantly, RTLMI can identify occupations for which a given region has a competitive advantage, or those occupations for which there is a larger labor market share within the region relative to the national average.38,39 These data are useful for both partners, as they help higher education institutions understand the immediate needs of employers and they provide businesses with the opportunity to confirm that their self-reported workforce needs reflect the skills and occupations they are seeking to fill with new hires. The central importance of RTLMI for effective STEM workforce development partnerships and ecosystems is described in Chapter 4.
The Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF) has developed a model that details five strategies that business and higher education can use to move from transactional relationships to strategic partnerships that advance economic development. BHEF has had success in applying its model to building the cybersecurity workforce in Maryland and to assisting the U.S. Navy in identifying the most effective strategies it can use to build its civilian STEM workforce. Importantly, the BHEF model leverages many of the principles described above as essential to a robust STEM workforce development ecosystem. Specifically, the five major strategies of the model include engaging and deploying corporate and academic leadership, focusing on corporate philanthropy, identifying and exploiting core competencies and expertise, facilitating employee engagement, and providing real-world research and learning opportunities.40,41
APPLIED LEARNING EXPERIENCES: INTERNSHIPS, COOPERATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAMS, AND EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS
The focus of our study was not on whether colleges and universities were preparing their students and graduates to move into particular jobs, but rather whether they were giving students both the breadth and depth of experiences in STEM courses and laboratories—and in the totality of their undergraduate experiences—to ensure that they would move into their careers ready to be successful, adaptable, and agile workers and learners. A workforce development ecosystem approach highlights the need for employers and institutions of higher education to work together to develop and promote interventions that can lead to more available STEM workers in a given region. Applied learning opportunities in the form of paid internships and cooperative education programs represent a natural point of shared commitment and partnership. These experiences can provide employers with opportunities to recruit and retain highly skilled STEM students, while helping the students develop the skills and abilities they will need in the STEM workplace. Importantly, internship and cooperative programs have been demonstrated to increase student per-
38We define competitive advantage (as measured by location quotient) to mean the following: a location quotient (LQ) is a way of quantifying how concentrated a particular industry, cluster, occupation, or demographic group is in a region as compared to the nation.
39RTLMI has additional applications, including (1) articulating differences in skill demand within an occupation by employers in their region (as compared with national or more generic profiles) and differences in skill demand within an occupation for industries that have strong clusters in their region; (2) tracking of the top employers by job or skill in their region for the purpose of employer outreach and engagement.
40Business–Higher Education Forum (2013). The National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative. Washington, DC.
41Business–Higher Education Forum (2013). The U.S. STEM Undergraduate Model: Applying System Dynamics to Help Meet President Obama’s Goals for One Million STEM Graduates and the U.S. Navy’s Civilian STEM Workforce Needs. Washington, DC.
sistence in STEM42,43 and improve job performance once hired,44 likely because they foster personal identification with STEM careers, in addition to skill development. While all students benefit from richer, more rigorous academic experiences, and from more hands-on authentic learning, the needs of underrepresented minority students and female students must be paramount if we are to close the achievement gaps and participation gaps in STEM majors and careers. The challenges are evidenced by many recent reports on this topic, and need explicit and focused attention as a priority challenge.45
In addition to technical skills, internships and other applied learning experiences may also help students develop those workplace competencies that employers often identify as lacking among new hires—employability skills (these skills are also called 21st century skills, among other terms).46 A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, having performed a review of the available literature, grouped 21st century skills into three broad domains—cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Cognitive 21st century skills include critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving (among many others); intrapersonal skills include flexibility, responsibility, and integrity; and interpersonal skills include communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution.47 Despite an overwhelming (anecdotal) consensus among employers that employability skills are lacking in recent STEM graduates, little research has been performed that has looked systematically at the relationship between these skills and employment outcomes.48 A number of colleges and universities are pursuing the development and implementation of interdisciplinary programs that integrate courses and experiences in STEM, the humanities, and liberal arts in an effort to broaden students’ skill development and enable them to acquire a broad range of technical skills and employability skills. Given the early and promising results that have emerged from such initiatives,49 the committee believes there is value in encouraging more of these integrated programs and creating more applied learning experiences for students at the undergraduate level that combine learning experiences in STEM with the development of knowledge and skills in the context of real-world settings (either at a worksite or through simulated work-based experiences on campus). These issues are further explored in Chapters 4 and 5.
42Jaeger, A. J., M. K. Eagan, and L. G. Wirt (2008). Retaining Students in Science, Math, and Engineering Majors: Rediscovering Cooperative Education. Journal of Cooperative Education and Internships 42(1):20–31.
43Packard, B. W. (2011). Effective Outreach, Recruitment, and Mentoring into STEM Pathways: Strengthening Partnerships with Community Colleges. In National Research Council (2012), Community Colleges in the Evolving STEM Education Landscape: Summary of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
44Malsberry, S. (2014). The Relationship of Skilled Aerospace Manufacturing Workforce Performance to Training. Ph.D. dissertation. Walden University, Minneapolis, MN.
45Among the many reports on this topic, see Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (2010), American Association of University Women, Washington, DC; and Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Diverse Student Pathways (2016), National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
46See National Research Council (2014), Undergraduate Chemistry Education: A Workshop Summary, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; American Association of Colleges and Universities (2013), It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for Learning and Student Success, Washington, DC.
47National Research Council (2012). Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
49Stewart-Gambino, H and J.S. Rossman. (2015). Often Asserted, Rarely Measured: The Value of Integrating Humanities, STEM, and Arts in Undergraduate Learning. Paper presented at National Academies Workshop on Integrating Education in the Arts and Humanities with Education in STEM, December 2, 2015.
It is worth noting that this chapter—and indeed this entire report—focuses on efforts to better align college and university curricula and programs with regional workforce needs. This is not to suggest that the sole purpose of higher education is to serve as a training ground for local, regional, or national business or industry. Nor is it meant to suggest that the vocational aspect of the postsecondary experience is necessarily the primary purpose of pursuing a 2-year, 4-year, or graduate-level college or university degree. Members of the committee subscribe to the belief that a primary purpose of higher education is to develop and strengthen the intellectual, moral, and civic development of young people and of all students of any age. Moreover, higher education provides vital services to our society as a whole through research and social engagement that improve all aspects of our lives. The focus of this report is not intended to minimize the importance of these significant roles of higher education. Rather, this report focuses on two other essential elements of postsecondary education: preparing a deeply knowledgeable and highly skilled workforce, and enhancing the nation’s (and a region’s) economic development—both of which can enhance the quality of life for all citizens.
A number of broader changes are taking place within higher education that will likely have some effect on regional workforce development ecosystems. As the higher education community responds to calls for increased accountability, it is critical that universities undertake continuous quality improvement efforts to strengthen all aspects of the academic experience—and draw on the quality improvement efforts of local employers to support such efforts. There are many new quality assurance tools that have been developed by coalitions of universities, including the new Degree Qualifications Profile recently supported by the Lumina Foundation.50 Many industries have also adopted innovative programs and policies to improve quality and productivity, and while the lessons learned from industry are not always a direct fit to higher education, many benefits can be secured. For example, online courses and simulations can enhance ongoing education and training activities in ways that supplement day-to-day instruction. In addition, competency-based models of course delivery, often adopted by industry training programs, and increasingly used by universities, can be offered as either regular courses and as supplements.
50Lumina Foundation (2014).The Degree Qualifications Profile: A learning-centered framework for what college graduates should know and be able to do to earn the associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.