Our response to COVID19

The QA Commons is mindful of the dramatic and transformational impact COVID-19 is having on all institutions of higher education. As an organization, we are adapting our services to support preparing graduates for the workplace that is now changing more precipitously than ever.

Pilot Program

Origin of the Pilot Program

The education system is broken, and the disconnect among students, employers, and Higher Ed is clear. Below are findings that coalesced into the idea for the EEQ CERT.


  • Since 2010, 86% of incoming freshman have said that getting a job represents a critical factor in their decision to enroll in college, compared with 73% of incoming freshmen between 2000 and 2009 who said the same.
    (Source: 2016 Gallup−Purdue Index)
  • Over 85% of today’s students cite the goal of getting a good job as their primary reason for enrolling in their college or university. But over 40% of recent college graduates were either under-employed or unemployed after graduation—and this affected their career options thereafter.
    (Source: Strada Survey)
  • Only 50% of college graduates believe their college experience was worth it, according to repeated surveys.
  • More than 40% of respondents indicated they would have, changed majors, changed institutions or not have attended college at all (emphasis ours) because of the lack of career support and preparation.
  • Only 17% of students surveyed who engaged with Career Services during college found the interaction helpful.


  • 98% of Chief Academic Officers rate their institutions as very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work, but only 11% of business leaders strongly agree that graduating students have the skills and competencies they need.
    (Source: 2015 Gallup-Purdue Index)
  • “Employers hire for the content grads have, but fire them for the lack of people skills (EEQs)”
    (Source: Ralph Wolff, President/Founder)

The Co-Design Approach

To address the disconnect, and to facilitate and catalyze communication among Higher Ed faculty and administration, students, and employers, we co-designed a certification for educational programs that:

  1. Develops essential employability qualities (EEQs) within students
  2. Engages students and employers in QA (by signaling to both employers and prospective students that a program provides relevance, quality, and value; and eventually by identifying programs that may be “preferred providers” for employers).
  3. Assures that graduates are prepared for the world of work after they complete their programs
  4. Communicates openly and accurately with the public

Testimonials from Pilot Program Participants

“Our process comprehensively and extensively reviews how effectively programs prepare graduates for the workforce. Each participating program said the process added considerable value. Most programs changed & improved during the 9-month pilot.”

The co-design program was a success. Here are what some of the participants said …

The Pilot Program Process: Stats at a Glance

  • 6 months of deep research to identify the problem & stake-holder needs
  • 2 years developing a prototype “process model”
  • 18 months of co-design (designing & testing the prototype)
  • Participation by 27 different degree programs representing these 14 institutions:
    • 2 community colleges
    • 3 4-year public
    • 6 private non-profit
    • 2 for-profits
    • 1 international (Mexico)

    and these diverse majors and disciplines:

    • Across all degrees (STLR, Applied Learning Program): 2
    • Accounting: 1
    • Applied Physics: 1
    • Business (Business Administration, International Business): 5
    • Criminal Justice: 2
    • Education (Early Childhood Education, Special Education): 2
    • English: 1
    • Industrial Engineering: 1
    • Info Tech/Computer Info Systems: 2
    • Law: 1
    • Liberal Studies: 3
    • Medical Assisting: 1
    • Philanthropic Studies: 1
    • Political Science: 1
    • Radiology: 1
    • Sociology: 1

Institutional Enrollment: EEQ Pilot Programs Represent ~35,000 Students

  • >1000 students: 4 institutions
  • 1,000−5,000 students: 3 institutions
  • 5,000−10,000 students: 3 institutions
  • 10,000+ students: 4
Student Age Student Attendance
Majority of students A18−25: 19 programs Majority of students F/T: 24 programs
Majority of students A26+: 8 programs Majority of students P/T: 3 programs

Pilot Program Findings


Factors contributing to the gap between employers and Higher Ed comprise disconnects in the following areas: preparation, communication, cooperation, application, and coordination. These gaps can be bridged by these recommendations:

  • Preparation — Learners develop knowledge, skills, and abilities for employability in a rapidly changing workplace
  • Communication — Graduates’ EEQs are made more visible to external stakeholders and there is more trust in the programs preparing graduates
  • Cooperation — Colleges and universities cooperate with and align to employers’ needs
  • Application — Students are able to apply their knowledge to and practice their skills in workplace or work-based problems and settings
  • Coordination — Coordination between academic programs and essential student service programs, such as career services and advising, is intentional and effective.

Core Principles

  • The EEQs for a 21st-century workplace need to become essential outcomes of academic and workforce preparation in addition to disciplinary content.
  • Measures of program effectiveness need to include evidence of graduates’ achievement through demonstration of postgraduate performance, assuring from disaggregated data that the program effectively supports and prepares all student groups.
  • Results of performance need to be transparent to all stakeholders.
  • Students and employers, in partnership with academic experts, need to be substantively engaged in all dimensions of ensuring program effectiveness and quality.
  • Records of student performance need to include evidence of students’ achievement of EEQs.

Promising Practices To Prepare Graduates for Employability

The 18-month pilot process yielded promising practices that can be useful for myriad programs that have yet to formally adopt the QA process:

  • Niesha Ziehmke, PhD, of Guttman Community College noted, “A key component of EEQ building uncovered through this pilot was the crucial role advisement plays. … Students meet weekly with advisors in their first year, and in their second obtain guidance on transfer and career.”
  • Employer input was critical in building Brandman University’s CBE program. Laurel Dodge, PhD, said questions included “Will mastery of these competencies prepare graduates for the workforce both now and for the future?” and “Would you hire a graduate from this program?”

Other promising practices included the following:

  • Integrated career development planning
  • Specially designed courses to help students understand the world of work
  • Experiential learning pathways
  • Course-embedded community service projects
  • Undergrad research designed to address organizational needs
  • Employer engagement models beyond Advisory Board → partnerships
  • Competency-based badging
  • Capstone projects situated in organizations, co-taught with employers
  • Well-designed alumni surveys
  • Connecting liberal arts focus to employability
  • Whole-institution intentionality in preparing students for employability
  • Cross-campus integrated approach for career preparation through civic engagement
  • Assignment design
  • Teaching and assessment approaches designed to develop and address EEQs

Next Steps

After this extensive R&D, we continue to test and refine our model via new programs, institutions, and geographical areas.

The US alone has about 3,700 degree programs in the US—not even counting certificate programs—so a robust model must work as well for a coding boot-camp as it does for a 4-year degree program.

Our current demonstration project is a “working laboratory.” There, we continue to develop how the EEQ CERT process builds workplace competence and confidence in students—while we address employers’ key concerns about the readiness of graduates for the workplace.

  • Nineteen programs at six institutions (three from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System) and three from 4-year institutions (including an HBCU, a research university, and a comprehensive regional university) are undertaking the EEQ CERT process.
  • Learning Communities are already meeting regularly to share information and report progress.
  • Our Stakeholder Advisory Committee includes key employers in the state so they can develop mutually beneficial relationships with participating programs and institutions.

Already, we find that as programs self assess, they discover gaps in assuring that graduates achieve employability skills (along with academic content). And employers share the gaps they find in current graduates.

Once a program earns the EEQ CERT, students and prospective employers alike can trust that the credential signifies employability. “Growing evidence tells us EEQs are what employers want most—but struggle to find,” said QA Commons Ralph President Wolff.

Scaling the Process

Once a robust set of programs have been assessed on all 5 criteria, the resulting anonymized big data will help us learn which criteria have the most demonstrable effects. These findings will be shared with institutions and systems to broaden the scope and impact of our work.

We also want to embed EEQs into course and program outcomes (CLOs and PLOs) so workplace skills can be assessed along with academic content. We want to ensure that EEQs are incorporated into new courses, as well.

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