Labor Insight Case Study: University of South Florida | Burning Glass Technologies
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University of South Florida

Aligning Learning with Job Opportunities

The Partners 

For the past decade, University of South Florida has been a national leader in ensuring the success of students from historically underrepresented communities.  In 2017, The Education Trust ranked USF as sixth among all universities in the nation for narrowing the college completion gap between black and white students, and fourth in the nation for Latino student success.

The USF system is a member of the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, helps students acquire skills that meet the demands of the local economies, graduate with lower debt, and enter the workforce at levels commensurate with their educational attainment.  Consortium member institutions educate more than half of the state’s undergraduate students of color.  The graduates of these schools make up a major portion of the high-skilled workforce in the state.   

The Challenge: Navigating Student Success and Career Pathways  

The goal for the partnership between USF and the Florida Consortium is to increase student’s success in the classroom, prepare graduates for the workforce, and secure rewarding careers.  

Helping students avoid underemployment is vital. Underemployment is a pervasive problem among college graduates, and it is easier to avoid than escape. Overall, 43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job.

Forging a pathway to good jobs for graduates requires alignment between the labor market and academic programs as well as collaboration between the institution and the local job market. There are several key issues: 

 

  • Higher Education Can Help Employers Identify the Right Talent.  Across a wide spectrum of industries employers seek access to workers who have knowledge of a core set of tools and skills needed in their sectors.   
  • Rethinking Engagement. In Florida and across the country, interaction between local employers, and higher education is often limited to career services, community boards, and traditional job-related events which is a missed opportunity. 
  • New Mandates on Outcomes. State legislatures are asking public colleges to document employment outcomes. For example, Florida’s Performance Funding Model requires that all publicly funded colleges and universities document the levels of employment and the earnings of their graduates.  Moreover, the state ties some higher education funding to institutional performance:  if, for instance, a proportion of graduates do not secure full time employment at or above a $25,000 annual threshold, funding can be cut.

“The power of Burning Glass is that it provides the voice of the employer. What skills are needed? What type of employee are they looking for? By using Burning Glass data, we got really good, unbiased feedback about actual employability opportunities for our students that we could then share with our stakeholders.” 

Allison Cleveland-Roberts

Associate Dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, USF

The Solution: Giving Educators the Job Data Tools to Review Their Courses 

As a part of its ongoing commitment to student success, Provost Ralph Wilcox asked the College of Arts & Sciences to conduct a comprehensive undergraduate curricular review.   

The Associate Dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, Allison Cleveland-Roberts called in Burning Glass to provide real-time labor market data for the arts and sciences review. Faculty used Labor Insight™ and Program Insight™ to analyze 65 programs and assess how their current curriculum was preparing graduating students for the local labor market. Professors could identify which jobs are hardest for employers to fill and why, access an analysis of compensation patterns and skill demands, and conduct their own regional analyses of trends, resources, and options. 

“It was critical to have faculty run these reports and analyze the data themselves in order to understand that it was unbiased, factual data rather than an opinion,” said Cleveland-Roberts. “Faculty quickly recognized the importance of labor market data and wanted to act on the insights. They became more engaged with the data, which helped them find a deeper connection to their courses, because they wanted to find ways to improve them.” 

Cleveland-Roberts devised a series of in-person and virtual discussions between Burning Glass staff and faculty. This proved more effective than the training webinars used in other projects. Their hands-on research offered faculty important insights and enabled them to find ways to align programs with the market while maintaining their academic and scholarly standards. Some professors confirmed that their work was already preparing students with skills that employers needed and wanted and others saw opportunities to make changes in their curriculum.  

 

What The History Department Did

The History department may have made the fullest transformation. Faculty members acknowledged that although they had been teaching students as if they were preparing to become graduate students in history, more than 80% were heading straight into the workforce.  Yet the clusters of skills developed by history majors – including digital research, coding expertise, and database development and management – are highly marketable skills for graduates.  Based on these insights, faculty sought out new learning for themselves, including professional development in the use of Python, a powerful computer language used for many kinds of programming and design work, which is in high demand in multiple industries.  

What The Women & Gender Studies Department Did

The Women’s and Gender Studies program dug into the kinds of workforce opportunities and market expectations their graduates encounter. Faculty realized that their program excelled at engaging students in project management work, through its many internships, workplace-based projects, and intellectual projects with real-world components. Project management is a highly valued skill for employers. But gender studies faculty realized that the project management assets of their graduates were relatively invisible to employers. The program resolved to focus the curriculum and program more deliberately on developing and emphasizing these experiences and skills. 

What The Religious Studies Department Did

The Religious Studies program had been experiencing declining enrollment and been urged to add more experiential education offerings.  Using Burning Glass employer profiles, the faculty discovered that several local companies and organizations were seeking precisely the skills – in ethical reasoning, decision-making, and research – that their students were developing.  Their departmental focus on these skills, supplemented by additional practical work through internships, could help them prepare majors for employment, and attract new students.  The program began forging direct ties to local businesses for internships and employment. 

Lessons for Future Work 

Educators across disciplines and leadership roles can leverage some of the essential lessons that emerged from the collaboration between USF, the Florida Consortium, and Burning Glass: 

 

  • Secure strong executive support.  The fact that the Provost of USF made this a requirement for all undergraduate programs within the College of Arts and Sciences played a large role in the scope and accomplishments of this project, and its ability to overcome resistance and inertia. 
  • Place leadership in the hands of faculty, who best understand student learning and potential.   “Faculty are students’ first and often only line of engagement and defense.  They’re the one group we know students will engage with,” the Executive Director at the Florida Consortium, Michael Preston said. After kick-starting the work, senior leaders in USF were pleased to see faculty immerse themselves in the use of Burning Glass tools to analyze findings and set new directions.  “I resisted the urge – and sometimes the requests from faculty – to tell them how to do it.  Real change happens when you give people tools and let them make professional judgments,” Cleveland-Roberts said. 
  • Use Burning Glass tools in teams and in person, and foster coaching.  Generic, large-format trainings were ineffective for this effort; re-evaluating such a large number of courses required hands-on, team-based skill development and peer coaching. Burning Glass staff remained involved to spread knowledge of the software and the databases.  One early session caused a breakthrough, when an early adopter of the Burning Glass software – a social sciences professor – began showing colleagues his discoveries and sharing his enthusiasm for the new data insights.  This led to a rich conversation, and to much higher levels of engagement. 
  • Equip students with insights to become more effective advocates for themselves. Project participants reported that USF students sometimes struggled, in job interviews and on resumes, to articulate the skills they gained from their studies to employers. After analyzing the labor data, USF faculty had a better understanding of the terminology that employers are using: “We help interpret this data for students, so they better understand their skill sets. That way, whatever they choose to do, they will know how to talk about it,” said Cleveland-Roberts. 
  • Adopt labor market data analysis as tools to deepen faculty practice and impact on the university.  Introducing these data tools helped faculty members see the work as a logical extension of what they already do.  They developed a better understanding of the skills graduates need, and often documented that their current curricular and teaching practice was building those skills. The insights allowed faculty to help students articulate what they gained from their studies.  Professors also pursued stronger alignment between what students do in college and what skills and certifications graduates can continue to work on and extend in their careers.  Michael Preston put it this way, “Working with Burning Glass allows faculty to put their teaching into a context.  I always say, ‘This is not telling you what to teach, it is making sure you have a place at the table to take stock of how we perform, as institutions.’” 

 “Working with Burning Glass allows faculty to put their teaching into a context.  I always say, ‘This is not telling you what to teach, it is making sure you have a place at the table to take stock of how we perform, as institutions.’” 

Michael Preston

Executive Director , Florida Consortium

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