What Students Want, What Employers Need, and What Builds Our Community

May 30, 2018

A Greenfield Community College Education Delivers

The results of the Greenfield Community College April 2018 Alumni Survey say loud and clear that a GCC education prepares students for the lives they want. 96% of the 370 respondents rated their GCC experience as good to excellent. 98% would recommend GCC to friends and family. 94% felt prepared or well-prepared for further education.

The Alumni Survey echoes results of previous local and national employer surveys that used the same set of 17 skill and knowledge areas. Skills that GCC alumni indicated as being most important in their career and/or further education are virtually the same as those identified as most important by Pioneer Valley employers and employers nationwide. All three groups indicated the “ability to effectively communicate orally” as being the most important skill. Of the 17 skills that result from a liberal arts education, GCC alumni said the following are most valuable: oral communication, critical thinking, teamwork, the ability to apply knowledge to real world settings, written communication, and ethical decision-making.

Celebrating the results of the Alumni Survey, GCC President Bob Pura commented, “These survey results show that social and economic mobility are alive and well as a result of a GCC education. The local economy is strengthened because employers are getting what they need, an educated workforce with the skill set they want. And democracy is clearly being strengthened by the 77% of alumni who report being involved in their community through civic or volunteer work. These powerful results affirm GCC’s positive impact on our students and community.” Continuing, Pura said, “These data are also a clear indication that lives do in fact change for the better every day at Greenfield Community College. Families then grow stronger and so too our community.”

The college received responses from alumni who attended GCC in all decades from the 1960s up until the present, with the greatest number coming from recent alumni who were enrolled at GCC in 2010 or later. The vast majority attended the college for two years or more and earned a credential from GCC. Respondents were enrolled in a wide variety of majors, with the greatest number in Liberal Arts (general). 72% reported continuing their education after GCC and of those, 78% earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. The majority of respondents (71%) live in Franklin, Hampshire, or other parts of western Massachusetts. 67% are employed, 21% are retired, and 13% are currently pursuing further education. Education & Healthcare were the industries most frequently cited by respondents to describe their employment.

Whatever their major, all GCC students take a core of liberal arts courses. Stephen Poulin is Co-Chair of the College’s Planning Evaluation & Management Governance Committee that conducted the Alumni Survey and Co-Chair of GCC’s English Department. He said, “We were hoping to see that years of continual assessment and refinement of our core liberal arts curriculum would prove valuable to our students, and that there would be some correlation between what students need, what employers want, and what we provide. But I had not expected the data to align quite so closely with the results from survey to survey. Three distinct surveys now, one national, and two local, show clearly how important it is to integrate the liberal arts into discipline-specific fields of study.”

Commenting further on GCC’s core courses, Poulin said, “There is not a more diverse classroom anywhere than a Composition I classroom in a community college. The English department at GCC views our mission as not simply teaching reading and writing, but also as preparing this amazingly diverse body for the communication challenges they will face in the twenty-first century. This means that students leave our classrooms with the ability to decipher texts from all sorts of professions—health care, criminal justice, engineering—and from all forms of media and mediums. And we do this in a manner that emphasizes ethical decision making and critical thinking. At GCC we work across disciplines to ensure that we give our students what they need to succeed whether they’re moving into baccalaureate programs or directly entering the workforce. Now, with the data from the surveys, we have even more evidence that this integration of the liberal arts and discipline specific curriculum is what employers want and what our students need and receive, whether furthering their education or going directly into their professions.”

Poulin concluded, “The liberal arts are not expendable. They are essential to producing students, workers and citizens prepared for twenty-first century challenges. It is a complex world and it is essential to integrate these courses into all post-secondary education if we are to thrive and survive as a society.”

In April 2016, Greenfield Community College (GCC) conducted a survey to learn more about the skills, knowledge areas, and college learning experiences that local employers value in their recent hires. The College wanted to gain a better understanding of how its curriculum and learning outcomes are aligned with student and employer need. The survey, modeled after a national study conducted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), was sent to Pioneer Valley employers on the Franklin County, Northampton, and Amherst Chamber of Commerce member lists. It presented 17 distinct skill and knowledge areas and asked respondents to indicate municipalities, non-profit organizations and schools weighed in, sharing with GCC information about the college learning outcomes they value the most.

For information about the April 2016 survey of what Pioneer Valley employers value in recent hires, visit: https://www.gcc.mass.edu/marketing/2016/08/04/what-do-pioneer-valley-employers-value-in-recent-hires/#.Wv7namPkwVg

For information about the AAC&U Survey, see: Hart Research Associates. “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success.” Association of American Colleges & Universities. 20 Jan. 2015. https://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research/2015-survey-results.

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