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These unusual skills may seem like things to learn in college, but they should be taught long before…here’s why

skills-students-postsecondaryWhile the Common Core aims to teach students critical skills that can translate to college, career, and life (critical thinking, collaboration, and writing), a different set of skills can help prepare students to not just survive post-secondary education, but thrive. These skills should also be taught in high school, if not earlier.

There are growing movements in higher education of going beyond a professor’s traditional curriculum and, instead, learning skills that are vital not just to a specific major, but give students a leg-up in class, in internships, in careers, and in personal finance.

“It’s interesting to see, in these megatrends, what demographics are showing us: By 2050….22 percent of the world’s population will be age 60 or older. (Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Population Ageing and Development 2012, 2012)—a gap that many companies are nervous about filling due to concerns about student skills,” said Shannon Schuyler, partner and U.S. leader for Corporate Responsibility, PwC.

And while base skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and the basics of STEM are crucial for students to master before entering higher education, a different set of skills could help students make an even easier transition to a rapidly evolving higher-ed atmosphere; where job and life skills are becoming better integrated into graduation necessities.

[Listed in no particular order]


1. Digital literacy skills

From learning how to master multiple devices (laptops, tablets and smartphones) to navigating web resources, digital literacy is becoming even more critical as colleges and universities begin to incorporate digital learning into classrooms and homework.

Beyond that, basic Word skills and the ability to take online assessments with ease are now must-knows when entering post-secondary education.

Thankfully, the Common Core requirements (as well as public libraries!) and the online assessments included with them will help students develop these skills as soon as possible; skills that “…include technology operational skills such as keyboarding and spreadsheets, as well as higher-order skills such as finding and evaluating information online,” said Nick Smith, director of marketing for

The Common Core testing brings a “new sense of urgency” to the teaching of digital literacy skills in school, Smith said. That applies everywhere, he said, but especially in lower-income communities where students aren’t learning these skills at home.

Schools interested in taking digital literacy skills a step further should also look into offering alternative competency pathways, through online options such as digital badges, online course credentials, and even MOOCs, since many colleges and universities are beginning accept these credentials and are even urging students to seek job-specific skills pathways.

(Next page: Skills 2-5)


2. ‘Maker’ skills

From ePortfolios to YouTube videos, and from PowerPoint presentations to blogs, more colleges and universities are looking to see students’ skills in software, presentation, and social media.

Many new and innovative admissions offices are beginning to incorporate these Maker highlights into their own practices; such as: YouTube acceptance videos, virtual campus tours, and online Twitter and Facebook chats for incoming students, and are increasingly looking for students exhibit similar creative tendencies.

ePortfolios are also being implemented by campus faculty to help students better prepare ‘resumes’ for future employers, and admissions are also looking to ePorfolios to get a more comprehensive sense of a students’ broad range of skills.


3. Online safety skills

Data security is quickly becoming a growing concern for post-secondary institutions, and students who know basic online safety skills can better protect themselves from potential breaches.

For example, the University of Maryland this year suffered not one, but two, student data breaches, with many other universities experiencing similar attacks. Tips from experts include varying passwords for different sites, not using common passwords (e.g. 1234), and keeping your social profiles separated or private from other online platforms.

In the event of just such an emergency, students should also be aware of the legal steps available to them, as well as next steps that should be taken, after a massive information breach.


4. Entrepreneurial skills

With the economy in its current state, many students are finding it harder than ever to land a job after college, with many postsecondary institutions now striving to be ranked as those that offer students the best job-placement opportunities.

Part of helping students become desirable job candidates is teaching them the skills necessary for job interviews, self-marketing, and building the right competencies.

By teaching students these skills in high school, not only can it help students better choose the major that’s right for them for their future career path, but can help them land often-required internship experience for both college admissions and entry-level jobs. And by developing entrepreneurial skills, can help any student, no matter their academic interest, better thrive in today’s business economy.


5. Financial literacy skills

According to an upcoming report from Junior Achievement and PwC, nearly a quarter of today’s students believe that after they complete college their student loan debt will be forgiven. Yet, 41 percent default on their loans. There’s a financial literacy disconnect going on between reality and today’s students, but it’s not just worrisome for bank accounts—it’s affecting colleges, business and the global economy.

In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest global assessment, more than 1 in 6 U.S. teens are unable to make even simple decisions about everyday spending, and only 1 in 10 can solve complex financial tasks.

Schuyler noted that knowing financial skills isn’t just about balancing a checkbook, it’s about using critical thinking skills to analyze and solve a problem.

“What the lack of financial literacy shows us is that students don’t just lack personal finance skills, it’s also lack of mathematics, critical thinking and reading comprehension,” she emphasized. “There’s a large correlation to math and reading in the U.S., more so than in other countries, which means that not only should students have better math and reading skills, financial literacy can be a major way to teach those math and reading comprehension skills.”

Also troubling is the affect the lack of financial literacy skills has on the current national student loan debt crisis, which not only affects the legitimacy of degrees and institutions, but the stability of the economy as well.

“Part of being financially literate is also understanding how student loans work: According to data, nearly a quarter of students surveyed believe that their student loan debt will be forgiven after they graduate; yet, 41 percent of all students default on their loans,” noted Schuyler. “There needs to be a triangulation between career choice, college choice and degree choice that doesn’t exist for students today. Financial literacy will help with these decisions.”

Indeed, knowing how to apply math and critical thinking skills to a college decision is critical for today’s students, including understanding how tuition directly correlates to student loan interest and base salaries in careers.

Not only could this help students from defaulting on their loans, but higher education (currently under intense public scrutiny), may better understand how to serve students and help provide pipelines to critical jobs in the business industry.

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Meris Stansbury

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