Focus group demonstrates how college can improve

By Editorial Board

On Nov. 4, the college brought in a focus group of nine recruiters and managers from various professions who hire Columbia students and alumni, as reported on Page 3. The participating employers answered a range of questions about the students’ performance and skills in the workplace. Most of the responses were negative.

Feedback from the focus group said Columbia students are “too self-absorbed” and “can’t take constructive criticism.” One employer said students “think of themselves as too unique and have an attitude of uniqueness.” The general consensus was that students lacked basic workplace skills, such as being able to send an email or follow basic instructions. Deborah Maue, vice president of Strategic & Marketing Communications, distributed the focus group results to administrators via email on Nov. 12, inviting them to share the email freely with others.

The results were clear. This diverse group of employers did not consider Columbia students to be the best additions to their offices. Several employers said that the University of Michigan, Indiana University and Purdue University students were more skilled and successful as employees.

It is obvious those large universities offer different curricula than Columbia. Many students are attracted to Columbia because it intentionally departs from a traditional university education. However, the college can offer its unique, specialized arts and media education while still preparing students to be competitive and competent graduates. Columbia may have a positive reputation among some employers, but the focus group’s feedback demonstrates more should be done.

The college’s five-year Strategic Plan includes elements that could contribute to workplace readiness, such as requiring internships and more collaborative learning across majors. The Strategic Plan also encourages weaving business  and entrepreneurial education into every major’s program to ensure students learn the basic skills necessary to thrive in a professional environment. However, more can be done with the current curriculum to prepare students for success after college. Practicum courses allow students to learn about being a professional, which can allow students to succeed after graduation and represent Columbia well.

However, professors can only teach so many skills. Students should also take the initiative to learn how to become sought-after and accomplished employees. The focus group’s concerns were straightforward. One manager said students need to learn how to “shake a hand [and] how to eat,” while another said students should learn to dress appropriately. The Portfolio Center offers seminars and workshops, such as “tWork: Transition from College to Work,” to equip students with the skills necessary to gain employment. However, these workshops are not mandatory.

Sheltering students from harsh feedback is counterproductive. The college should release the results of the focus group so students can be better informed on how they can improve. Coddling students only produces the type of employee that the focus group does not find successful.

One of the focus group participants said Columbia students could not take constructive criticism. This is an excellent opportunity for students to learn how to do just that. Students would be more receptive to feedback about professional success if it were relayed from employers rather than professors because it comes straight from the workplace.

The feedback can be used to better equip students, improve the college’s curriculum and produce skilled graduates who can positively represent Columbia in the professional community. Informing students of the focus group results might hurt some feelings. However, the college can work with students to provide a well-rounded education that prepares graduates for the professional world.