Date of Award
Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
School of Business
The purpose of this study was to investigate differences in suitability of employment of unique student groups (academic clusters) at four geographically dispersed Christian higher education universities (CHEU) as represented broadly by membership in and association with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). The four academic clusters identified for this study were Residential Traditional Students (RTS), Deferred Professional Students (DPS), Accelerated Traditional Students (ATS) and Other Students. This research used a quantitative quasi-experimental method with an emailed, survey instruments designed to measure the impact of a student’s educational experience on employability through self-efficacy and employment experience. Yorke and Knight (2007) developed the Self Efficacy Questionnaire (SEQ) and Employment Experience Questionnaire (EEQ) related to the Understanding, Skills, Self-Efficacy and Metacognition (USEM) model of employability which extends employability beyond a simple definition of gaining a job and measure values desired by prospective employers. Higher education is influential in impacting employability through development of the whole person.
An invitation was sent to 1,749 possible participants who had graduated within the last 12 months or were within 15 credit units of graduation for their bachelor’s degree at the four participating CHEUs. A total of 290 participants completed all parts of the survey. The study used a series of ANOVAs to compare employability of participants using different academic clusters and to compare employability among participants from the four institutions involved in the study. Pearson r correlations were also conducted to determine the relationship between employability and the constructs of proportionate attendance at a CHEU, number of authentic learning experiences, and years of work experience in the context of pursuing a degree.
CHEUs are unique organizations that integrate a study of the liberal arts with professional applied studies and these institutions make significant value claims that impact their brand and marketing messages regarding their ability to enhance employability. The modern day definition of liberal arts has taken some departure from its original roots, and current graduates of a liberal arts education are expected to balance the philosophical study of a rich liberal arts core with applied coursework, authentic learning, and internships in a more holistic curriculum design (Maier, 2014). Hiring managers care less about a job candidate’s degree and more about their ability to communicate, think critically, exercise a strong work ethic, work in teams, demonstrate initiative, utilize strong interpersonal skills, solve problems and conduct analysis. All these skills are honed in a liberal arts education (Gehlhaus, 2007). Many employers are concerned that educational institutions are not adequately preparing graduates for the complex needs of an increasingly global market place, including a broad understanding of human culture and the physical and natural world. Ewest and Kliegl (2012) asserts the marginalization of the liberal arts is a contributing factor to the recent lapses in moral and ethical behavior of business leaders. Higher education is a mature industry with calls for reform that demands innovation and flexibility to reduce the cost and time associated with earning a bachelor’s degree (Spellings, 2006). CHEUs have adapted their approach to the disruptive demands for change by offering nontraditional online and reduced face-to- face requirements that is often completed over an accelerated time period.
The research findings concluded that there are differences in employability among participants from unique universities and limited differences among the participants from the four academic clusters. A statistically significant positive correlation was determined between the percentage of education obtained from a CHEU and self-efficacy. The number of authentic learning experiences for RTS participants and years of work experience for DPS participants were not found to have a strong correlation with employability. Age of the participants was found to have an inverse but weak relationship in explaining employability. The findings conclude that institutional differences exist in terms of employability scores despite a common association and imply that institutional choice matters.
The findings indicated that DPS participants relied more on their experience outside of education to inform them of their unique capabilities to perform in an educational setting, but discounted their own work experience and the value of the education in preparing them for enhanced careers. These findings imply DPS participants may tend to be utilitarian in their educational pursuits and discount the impact of formal education; but also diminish the value of their own work experience in preparing them for career advancement. DPS participants may be more cynical towards completing their degree and resent outside requirements to complete a degree for advancement.
The group of Other Students is composed of participants that is more likely to have attended multiple schools and accumulated credits through flexible means. This group of students indicated the highest overall employability scores for valuing workplace experience, academic awareness, and critical independence. This findings suggest Other Students may have an inflated bias of their own capabilities, but also represent a growing population of students CHEUs must consider. RTS participants are another group of younger students that participated in the highest average number of authentic learning experiences, but reflected an inverse relationship with some measures of employability suggesting authentic learning experiences may make other courses appear to be less relevant in preparing students for employment.
CHEUs face several important implications and potential challenges related to the study that impact their identity, strategic operations, and marketing messaging. CHEUs prioritize operational and capital resources in favor of residential programs and charge more for a residential experience. If employability is undifferentiated regardless of academic programs, students will increasingly be drawn towards the less expensive and more flexible nontraditional models of education and the identity of the institutions challenged. Brand equity could be threatened by movement towards a more utilitarian learning experience and a reduction in the influence of brand communities on the sustaining aspects of fund raising and future recruitment. An opposite, but related challenge is associated with the evidence of differences in employability among the academic clusters revealed in the study. The validity of value claims to enhancing employability and the reputation of the institution with prospective employers of graduates and other societal constituents could also impact brand equity and challenges consistency in the institutions strategic approach and messaging to each academic cluster.
This pioneering research has extended the efforts to identify and measure the connection between Christian higher education and employability, but additional research is needed to gain additional insights on the unique characteristics of employability. Additional qualitative and quantitative studies should be conducted with more emphasis on the perspectives of employers in identifying the perceived gaps in employability of graduates. Research is also needed to reconcile the goals of education that are perceived to fall outside of employability. If education is in fact a societal priority, it should be provided in such a way that propels society forward in all endeavors.
Heinrich, Sam, "Exceptionally Employable: A Study of the Value of Contrasting Educational Modalities within Christian Liberal Arts Universities in Preparing Students for Employment Suitability" (2017). Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). 24.