'Soft skills' could be key to college readiness

Published: Saturday, Dec. 1 2012 5:10 a.m. MST

Although plenty of students are getting into U.S. colleges, too few are graduating. It turns out that traits like grit, independence and good communication skills might have more to do with finishing college than IQ and academic prowess.

Although college enrollment is growing, graduation rates remain flat, according to a story in Education Week. The United States ranks ninth in college enrollment among industrial nations, but last in completion rates.

"As educators look for ways to turn that showing around, many schools are incorporating the softer, non-cognitive skills into college-readiness efforts," wrote Caralee J. Adams. "The ability to solve problems and be resourceful are viewed by some experts as being as important as mastering mathematics and reading."

Around the nation, high schools and colleges are looking for ways to reverse the trend of overprotective "helicopter" parenting and increase attention at school to supporting student independence.

The book "Ready, Willing and Able: A Developmental Approach to College Access and Success" suggests that teachers should make students responsible for missed work and poor behavior.

The book's authors, Mandy Savitz-Romer and Suzanne M. Bouffard, wrote that students — especially first-generation college students — need support in developing a college-going identity. They also need opportunities to develop self-regulatory skills, such as planning and goal-setting.

College brochures don't prepare students for the tricky transition into college life, said the Education Week story. Author Harlan Cohen, who wrote "The Naked Roommate and 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College," is quoted:

"Students do not have the communication skills to navigate through adversity that is part of the normal transition to college," Cohen said. "The uncomfortable parts aren't illustrated. You don't see people crying, struggling, vomiting, dealing with roommate conflict or heartache . . . High schools are starting to realize that we desperately need to be responding, not just to getting them into college, but getting them through."

Building students' "soft skills" will benefit them once they are in the workplace, too, wrote New York Times business reporter Marci Alboher:

"The hard skills are the technical expertise you need to get the job done," the story said. "The soft skills are really everything else — competencies that go from self-awareness to one’s attitude to managing one’s career to handling critics, not taking things personally, taking risks, getting along with people and many, many more."

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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