The CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS) is a campus within the City University of New York that primarily serves adult, returning, and predominantly online learners who work full time and attend school part time. SPS offers bachelor's degree completer programs, graduate degrees, and various certificate programs.
In spring 2022, the then academic director of the undergraduate program B.A. in liberal studies collaborated with general education and liberal studies faculty to revise the program outcomes to align better with career readiness skills. Howard Wach, Ph.D., liberal studies consortial faculty coordinator, is continuing this work by ensuring these outcomes are more effectively integrated into the liberal studies curriculum.
“The emphasis on preparing students for their careers is evident in the name of our campus—School of Professional Studies,” Dr. Wach points out.
“This focus has always been a crucial aspect of the school’s mission. While SPS’s larger undergraduate academic programs like B.S. in nursing or B.A. in health information management clearly highlight their connection to career preparation, it was recognized that general education and liberal studies curricula could better communicate to students how their courses address career competencies and the significance of these competencies in achieving career success.”
Implementing Career Readiness Competencies
Inspired by work being done by NACE to identify the competencies most sought after by employers and driven by the desire to form a faculty working group to enact large-scale curricular changes to highlight these competencies, the general education and liberal studies programs jointly applied for and received a CUNY Career Success Course Innovation Grant.
“This grant enabled the two programs to collaborate with general education faculty to embed NACE competencies into ‘Professional Connections’ assignments in courses shared by both general education and liberal studies programs,” explains Hannah Miller, academic program manager, general education in the CUNY SPS.
“The course revisions took place in spring 2020 and launched in fall 2020 and because of their success, general education received a second Career Success Innovation Grant in 2021 to revise eight more general education courses that also serve the liberal studies curricula.”
The bulk of the 14 NACE course revisions were done in two faculty cohorts in 2020 and 2021. Because faculty from different disciplines were revising their courses at once, this created a collaborative model for the project, where faculty across disciplines discussed course design and bounced ideas off of each other.
Faculty met as a workshop group at important milestones throughout their revision process, including:
- An initial brainstorming meeting;
- A workshop dedicated to sharing revised assignment and rubric drafts; and
- A separate workshop on the reflective assignment.
“Even though the courses varied significantly in discipline—from philosophy, history, English, to geography—faculty gave constructive feedback and learned from their colleagues’ approaches,” Miller notes.
“Faculty participation was key from the initial conception of the grant. Faculty were consulted during the grant writing process and the funds requested were specifically to be allocated to compensate faculty members for their revisions. The grant proposals identified specific courses and participating faculty.”
A key to securing faculty buy-in was approaching the curriculum revisions with the perspective that the courses already address workplace competencies.
“The primary focus of the initial efforts was to emphasize and enhance existing content, rather than starting from scratch or reinventing the curriculum,” Dr. Wach says.
“This approach makes it easier for faculty members to recognize the value of the revisions and support the changes.”
Early in the process, it became evident that establishing general guidelines was crucial, Miller says.
“Although it could be argued that the courses addressed multiple competencies, we requested that faculty concentrate on a single competency per course,” she explains.
Faculty were encouraged to incorporate a reflective exercise alongside assignment revisions, providing students an opportunity to demonstrate their learning through thoughtful reflections.
“Reflection can help to articulate the connection between ‘academic’ learning—e.g., in history, philosophy, and more—and workplace effectiveness,” Dr. Wach says.
“This enables students to conceptualize and articulate their learning while connecting it to their past experiences or future careers, thus promoting continuous learning that ultimately propels students forward in their career paths.”
For example, the COM 110: Digital Literacy course, revised by SPS faculty Dr. Kate Moss, addressed the following aspects of the leadership competency:
- Inspire, persuade, and motivate self and others under a shared vision.
- Serve as a role model to others by approaching tasks with confidence and a positive attitude.
- Motivate and inspire others by encouraging them and by building mutual trust.
The discussion leader assignment in COM 110 asks students to sign up for a one-week role as a discussion board leader. Students participate in one of the following roles:
- Initiator—Posts at the start of the week and asks classmates open-ended questions to try and get a conversation going;
- Interlocutor—Posts a bit later during the week and again, asks classmates open-ended questions to try and engage in conversation; or
- Weaver—Posts during the week and comes back at the discussion’s end to write a summary post, “weaving” the various discussion threads together.
Students also have a final course reflection blog which, in part, asks them to reflect on how well they achieved (or did not achieve) the goals of the NACE leadership career readiness competency, how they might use these skills outside of college, and to consider whether and how they might continue to develop these skills.
“Students in COM 110 have mentioned that being asked to be a leader in discussions was a positive experience, and some have also noted this was the first time they were required to take on a leadership role within a course,” Miller says.
“Dr. Moss found, with a certain amount of instructional support, the assignment worked well in getting students to engage with peers in their online discussions, more so than the previous version of the course.”
Another essential step involved providing departmental support to faculty as they implemented the changes in their online classes. To ensure consistency in the presentation of NACE within the online courses, the general education department designed flyers for each Professional Connections course. These flyers offer students a comprehensive roadmap of courses that address various competencies throughout the general education curriculum.
Assessment Work to Be Done, Recommendations
The team measures the effectiveness of the NACE courses through student course evaluations, professor feedback, and formal assessments. Although the program is currently undergoing assessment and data have not fully been collected and analyzed, the team reports that enrollment in many of its Professional Connections courses has increased significantly over the past year.
Dr. Wach and Miller offer several recommendations to their colleagues for developing, implementing, conducting, and maintaining a similar program:
- Emphasize collaboration and communication among administration, faculty, and departmental support when implementing career readiness in the curriculum.
- Ensure faculty take the lead in integrating career readiness into the curriculum, and that they are fairly compensated and consulted throughout the entire process, from conception to implementation.
- When collaborating with liberal studies faculty, approach revisions with the understanding that these competencies are already embedded in the curriculum; Professional Connection assignments enhance existing content by surfacing the career readiness behaviors and skills embedded within existing content rather than starting from scratch.
- While adopting the language of NACE competencies, allow faculty the flexibility to choose and modify the competency “behaviors” or “skills” that best align with their assignments.
- Provide community-building opportunities for faculty and administration to workshop ideas and exchange feedback.
- For online classes, specifically, offer departmental support in implementing curricular revisions, enabling faculty to focus on the creative and intellectual aspects of assignment creation rather than technical implementation.
- Develop consistent, “branded” materials, such as flyers, using similar language to explain career readiness, NACE, and the competencies across all NACE courses. This helps students better understand the purpose of the assignments.
Finishing its third year of Professional Connections assignments, the CUNY SPS team has found that integrating career readiness competencies within coursework is an ongoing process.
“As we now undertake a more comprehensive assessment of our Professional Connection assignments, our objective is to ensure that students not only achieve the NACE outcomes, but also excel in the original learning outcomes of each course,” Miller says.
Adds Dr. Wach: “The chief benefit of tying assignments to the NACE Competencies is creating a strong connection between academic learning and workforce preparedness. That applies to students and faculty alike.
“Students become more motivated and find relevance in coursework that might not have previously appeared connected to their careers. For faculty, the effort to create assignments that integrate the competencies raises their awareness as much as doing the assignments raises students’ [awareness].”