Using Assessments to Support College Programs

Using Assessments to Support College Programs

We may be coming into an era where assessments will be utilized by post secondary educational institutions to help them qualify student applications and ensure that the most appropriate in-curriculum content and guidance counselling is available to ensure student success. This is particularly true of career oriented programs that develop individuals for specific jobs. This spans a significant spectrum of the post secondary educational marketplace.

Just imagine what the impact would be if applying students could be screened against the same job success criteria as employers use:

  • The number of students withdrawing from a program because they aren’t well suited to the expectations of the job they are being trained to do will decline;
  • The success rate at securing relevant employment would improve;
  • The rate of attrition due to poor fit in jobs that a student has been trained for would decrease;
  • The job satisfaction of employees who are well suited to their job roles would improve; and
  • The number of people who remain in jobs that they are not suited for because they can’t afford to start over at something else will decline. Incidentally, the stress levels of people trying to cope with this scenario are significant, further impacting their performance and life balance.

Not surprisingly, several of these results are already significant measures that are being tracked for post secondary institutions in many jurisdictions.  These key performance indicators can drive college funding and certainly can impact upon the “street” reputation of the college as an institution of choice.

Historically, many institutions have been reluctant to employ tests that are used in the external world for job selection. There are many reasons for this and they span the scepticism of an academic on the validity and utility of tests to a need to attract as many students as possible who want to enroll to ensure that budgets are met.

But times may be a changing.  Many academic institutions employ testing of numeracy and verbal reasoning skills as a part of their application or pre-class process. These are likely useful indicators of the ability to learn.

In the past 5 years, we have seen a growing interest from within several colleges/universities to introduce testing that assesses several other things:

  • Interest and motivation to undertake the types of work activities in the job
    • E.g. work involving a great deal of effort to interact with people is better suited to someone who has that strong preference rather than someone who has to make a greater conscious effort to perform those tasks
  • Personality as a predictor of behaviour, where the best fit behaviours have been benchmarked for jobs that a student is being trained for
    • Personal Style can be measured by tools like Prevue across four key determinants of success:
      • Interpersonal Style predicted by Independence;
      • Work Style predicted by Conscientious;
      • Social Style predicted by Extraversion; and
      • Emotional Style predicted by Stable.
        • The Emotional Style Scale also gives a strong indicator of the stress coping resilience of the individual. Linking this to areas where an individual may not be a good fit for the role they are being trained for.

The colleges/universities that are pursuing these concepts are driven by the recognition that their future success shall be determined by the success of their students in the world of work and by the return on investment of the training the right fit students. Balancing the need to fill classes with the need to fill classes with the best fit students has some interesting metrics:

  1. What if the career the student is being trained for is in such demand that anyone can get a job when they graduate?
  2. What if 25% of first year students decide to drop out because what they were being trained for wasn’t what they expected or wanted?
  3. What if another 25% who toughed it out and went on to 2nd year decided it wasn’t for them after year 2 – or failed the program because of low interest or incompatible behaviours?
  4. What if, another 25% who struggled with the job role graduated and were employed in their field of training?

Given these scenarios what is the impact on the school and the end workplace for:

  • Revenue – potential versus actual?
  • Socio-economic impact of a student starting a program, incurring debt and not finishing the program, – are they likely going to have the financial resources or desire to start over in a new program?
  • School reputation of successfully training students for the jobs they are seeking?

Next month we will look at a case study from a community college that trains EMS Technicians.

Written by contributing author, Lynne Wallace

Lynne Wallace is the managing director of The Assessment Coach, an authorized Prevue Distributor with offices in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada.