Most College Graduates Feel Inadequate for Post-College Life, Says University of Washington Study

College graduates tend to be highly trained and employable but often lack a key skill needed for post-college life: how to identify and ask their own questions, according to a new study released by Project Information Literacy (PIL), a research group based in University of Washington’s Information School (UW iSchool).

Titled “Staying Smart: How Today’s Graduates Continue to Learn Once They Complete College,” the report presents findings about the information-seeking behavior of relatively recent college graduates used for lifelong learning in personal life, the workplace, and the local communities where they lived. Included are results from online surveys of 1,651 respondents and telephone interviews with 126 study participants who graduated from one of 10 US colleges and universities between 2007 and 2012.

The participating colleges and universities are: Belmont University (TN); The Ohio State University; Phoenix College (AZ); Trinity University (TX); University of Central Florida; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; University of North Carolina, Charlotte; University of Redlands (CA); University of Texas, Austin; and The University of Washington.

Allison Head, PIL’s principal research scientist, said: “Graduates reported four barriers to their continued learning efforts: lack of time, finding affordable learning sources, staying on top of everything they needed to know, and staying motivated to keep learning after college. As a whole, graduates prided themselves on their ability to search, evaluate, and present information, skills they honed during college. Yet, far fewer said that their college experience had helped them develop the critical thinking skill of framing and asking questions of their own, which is a skill they inevitably needed in their post-college lives.”

Of the total number of respondents interviewed for the study, three-fourths said they looked for how-to tips — quick fixes they could use to solve urgent problems in their lives. About half said they sought information to improve their communication with older co-workers, or to keep sharp the technical skills they learned in college just a few years before. Graduates interviewed said they preferred information sources that had currency, utility, and interactivity. They said they also placed a higher premium on curated information systems that were organized and kept up-to-date, such as libraries, museums, and bookstores.

As to how they get their information, most said they use Google a lot. They also get information from social media sites, particularly Youtube DIY videos, and even TED talks, but rarely would they bother to enrol in online courses. They also said they consulted friends and co-workers almost as much as they use the Internet to search for answers. According to the study, many admitted to having trouble staying motivated or finding the time to continue learning to stay current in the workplace.

While three-quarters of those surveyed said college had sharpened their skills at finding and evaluating information, the study found that only about a fourth of the total number of respondents thought their college experience had taught them how to frame their own questions.

As Head observed: “As more and more college students are specializing in their majors so they are more employable, they are taking fewer courses in liberal arts, where general inquiry and problem-solving are part of the curriculum. Our study reveals some of the shortcomings of an education that is solely focused on financial rewards at graduation.”

Most of the grads we studied scrambled to learn such essential new skills as money management, household repairs, and how to advance in their careers and communicate better on the job,” Head added.

Based on the findings, ten recommendations are presented in iSchool’s PIL study for improving educational strategies, resources, and services that foster lifelong learning. These are: “Reaffirm a broad-based purpose for higher education”; “Integrate the social side of research into college curricula”; “Ensure that students graduate knowing how to ask their own questions”; “Make strategies for lifelong learning part of information literacy curriculum”; “Design libraries as ‘gathering places’ for informal and formal learning”; “Librarians have a mandate—and a responsibility—to intervene in their

communities”; “Develop localized lifelong learning with TED Talks”; “Embed lifelong learning sources across settings, both physically and virtually”; “Teach financial literacy skills in a variety of venues”; and “Begin teaching information competencies early, and continue throughout students’ formal education.”

UW’s iSchool, formerly known as the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences, is an undergraduate and graduate school that offers BS in Informatics, MLIS, MSIM, and PhD degrees. Students at the iSchool are given opportunities to participate in professional and student communities such as iPeer and iServe as well as in academic, research and corporate affiliate programs and projects like the PIL.

Founded in 1861, UW is one of the oldest universities in the North Coast. A public flagship research university, it is best known for its medical studies program. UW students, sports teams, and alumni are collectively known as “Washington Huskies.” The University’s banner colors are Purple and Gold. Its mascot is Harry the Husky.

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