The rap on college transcripts is that they don’t tell employers much, thanks to grade inflation and the failure of conventional grades to predict performance on the job. So to try to give their students' transcripts more heft, a two-year college in Missouri now includes not only their grades, but a job readiness score and their attendance rate as well.
Linn State Technical College’s employability rating is fairly extensive. Instructors assign a “job readiness work ethic score” to students in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship. Those scores are listed on transcripts and added together for an overall final grade, all of which employers can see, along with ratings for attendance and, of course, academic grades.
Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.
The college rates students' attendance on a 1 to 100 percentage scale.
Linn State is among few colleges that have attempted to signal workplace readiness to employers. One similar effort is underway at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, which is located in North Carolina and this year plans to begin issuing grades and certificates for “soft skills,” like punctuality and working well in groups.
Several observers praised Linn State’s bulked-up transcripts, which it began offering in 2009. All students currently receive the job readiness and attendance scores.
Melinda Mechur Karp, a senior research associate with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, calls the idea intriguing and potentially valuable to both students and employers. “It’s sending a very clear message to students about what’s expected of them.”
On the hiring side, work place readiness scores could be more helpful than conventional grades, says Marcus Kolb, a program officer with the Lumina Foundation.
“The job readiness measure is probably the first thing the employer would look at because it might need less translation than traditional grades and immediately tells the employer something they probably really want to know,” Kolb said via e-mail. “This seems to suggest current transcripts are insufficient for employers -- a key revelation traditional higher ed needs to acknowledge and adapt to.”
Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president, says the plan originally came from trying to respond to a widespread notion among employers around the nation that there has been a “deterioration of the work ethic” among new hires.
Linn State’s leaders didn’t just go with their gut. In 2006 the college polled the more than 300 members of its industry advisory committee (which now has more than 350 members) to see if they liked the idea of rating students on job readiness skills and attendance.
“Their response was overwhelming that we should do that,” he says, with 80 percent of respondents endorsing the idea.
The college then collaborated with various industry partners to see which skills are valued and how to rate students on them. For example, they studied work place evaluations from several employers.
Once Linn State had a draft job readiness score chart, it began experimenting with small groups of instructors who tried using it. The college made subsequent tweaks, and then launched the full-scale grading process in 2009. Most of the changes were in how to define attendance, such as what should count as an excusable absence, says Claycomb. Adjustments were based on the consensus among employer standards.
Some faculty members had concerns about the job readiness grading, mostly due to worries about how much additional time they would have to spend tracking students’ performance in the six categories. But Claycomb says those initial misgivings have faded. These days, he says many instructors like having another way to assess students, which he said also helps their teaching.
Students also like the new transcript grades, according to Claycomb -- at least students who do well on them. In particular, he said students value getting some credit for performing well in areas besides their final grades in courses. And for some, a good job readiness score could help lift up the overall appeal of their transcript.
The key is whether employers actually look at the document. Karp says she was skeptical that transcripts factor much into the hiring process for technical jobs, although she also said it would great if employers did use Linn State's transcripts.
However, many community colleges report that there is a hunger for colleges to help students develop their soft skills. And it doesn’t seem like a big leap for companies and others on the hiring side to encourage colleges to rate students for their employability.
“We are seeing more and more employers who are showing more attention to this,” says Claycomb.
Linn State is upfront with its students about the high priority it places on work force readiness, which is part of its recruitment pitches. “If it isn’t right for you,” Claycomb says, “then this isn’t the place for you.”