Gloria Dohman, Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness
The North Dakota State College of Science is an associate-degree granting institution founded in 1903. Its primary mission is to support the workforce needs of the state and to provide liberal arts education. NDSCS awards the AA, AS, ASN, and thirty-seven AAS degrees, as well as certificates and diplomas.
NDSCS was invited to join the HLC Pathway Degree Qualifications Profile Demonstration Project as an AQIP institution and represent the two-year college perspective. North Dakota became a LEAP state in 2010, with the public colleges and tribal colleges committed to the development of standardized, statewide general education requirements among the institutions, even though they have varying academic missions. The Pathway project and North Dakotaâ€™s LEAP initiative fit very well together and gave NDSCS an opportunity to analyze the DQP in-depth.
The intent of the NDSCS project was to focus on the AAS degree and determine the degree of alignment of the DQP framework with employer expectations, student learning outcomes and assessment of student learning in the NDSCS AAS degrees. Alexandria Technical and Community College, an associate-degree granting AQIP institution, located 65 miles from our campus, is also participating in the HLC Pathway DQP Demonstration Project and developed a similar project. Therefore, the first phase of this project, soliciting employer input, was conducted in collaboration with ATCC.
Major employers of our students were invited to a one-day focus group to review the Degree Qualifications Profile and provide feedback regarding areas of alignment, areas of strength, and areas for improvement. Representatives from eighteen employers representing thousands of employees participated in the summit. The facilitator questions may be found here. The following represents the key findings from employers:
The consensus of responses supports the distribution of learning outcomes identified by the DQP. The level of proficiency required for associate degrees varies by industry segment. There is an expectation that all graduates of two-year colleges have technical (specialized) skills appropriate to a program or discipline. Differentiation of graduatesâ€™ future success is determined by their â€œessential skills.â€ These are broadly represented as Intellectual Skills in the Degree Profile. They include analytic skills, use of information resources, engaging in diverse perspectivesâ€”needed in problem solving, quantitative fluency, and communications fluency. There was concern that the AAS degree will not be able to develop the full spectrum of skills identified in the Degree Profile without diminishing time on essential specialized technical skills needed for employment. Technology skills were not expressly identified but explicit in all the areas of learning, but certainly an expectation of employers. There was also a strong endorsement of work experience being integrated within the degree progression. Specific attention should be given to ethics, social issues, and legal and professional requirements of the specialized field. Overall, the employers felt the DQP was a good concept and a start toward consistent guidelines for degrees.
The second phase of the project was to examine the expectations of the DQP with student learning outcomes and assessment of student learning within five representative NDSCS curriculums in healthcare, business, transportation, construction, and manufacturing. Excel spreadsheets were created that included the DQP areas of learning, each curriculumâ€™s current student learning outcomes and methods of measurement (see also this).
Faculty were asked to identify which learning outcomes mapped to a particular DQP Area of Learning; identify the current means of measurement and whether the instrument provided valid assessment data; determine if there were gaps between the student learning outcome and the expectation of the DQP Area of Learning; and if changes needed to be made to their curriculum as a result. This analysis and summary is currently underway. Initial findings have determined a general alignment with the DQP. Points of discussion have included the degree of competency and the type of assessments that would validate the learning. The one area of learning that is not readily apparent in all curriculums is â€œCivic Learning.â€ If it is part of the curriculum, it is often more of a social activity, such as a service learning project without a valid assessment method.
The collegeâ€™s participation in this project has been a valuable experience that will strengthen student learning and the curriculum that is offered. Faculty and administration had the opportunity to interact with the major employers of our students and have candid conversations regarding their expectations for entry-level employees.
Employers expressed appreciation for being included in the process at a point in which they felt they had an opportunity to impact the results.