New CLA Career Readiness tool gets mixed reviews

The RATE tool aims to help students articulate the relevance of their classroom experiences to their future careers.

Ella Johnson

A new career readiness tool piloted by the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts this year received mixed reviews from faculty and students.

The tool — called RATE — guides students through reflections on how classwork connects to other aspects of their lives and, ultimately, their careers. Student polls show increases in participants’ confidence in their education and ability to articulate its value after using the tool, though some students said the reflections felt like busywork and that the program’s purpose wasn’t clear.

The RATE tool focuses on connecting classroom experiences to CLA’s Core Career Competencies, a set of skills including engaging diversity and analytical and critical thinking, said Ascan Koerner, CLA associate dean for undergraduate education. The competencies are meant to represent marketable skills liberal arts teaches best, he said.

The tool is supposed to provide an opportunity for students to practice articulating the value of their education, an area in which employers said CLA’s graduates were sometimes lacking, Koerner said. 

He stressed that RATE is still a work in progress.

The tool is part of CLA’s Career Readiness initiative, which aims to push back against the dominant narrative that liberal arts degrees are not useful or practical, Koerner said. 

In addition to implementing the RATE tool, CLA team members involved in the initiative have provided trainings and workshops for instructors and advisors. CLA’s career services staff has also been doubled as a result.

Ginger Dallin, a sophomore double major in entrepreneurial management and theater arts who used the tool in one of her classes, thought CLA could have better served her and others if they had focused career readiness efforts on resume building workshops. CLA does offer those services, including an optional sophomore career management course, though they are not required like RATE is in some courses.

Dallin said the purpose of the tool was unclear, which was why it felt like busywork.

For example, RATE contains a feature that generates potential interview questions for each of the Core Career Competencies. Dallin said this might be useful, but she didn’t know about it. This was also an example, she said, of another issue with the online tool: it was difficult to navigate, contributing to her confusion about its purpose.

The students who found the tool useful were mindful of the tool’s purpose and felt it would benefit them at the start of the pilot, said theater arts professor Lisa Channer, who administered the tool in Dallin’s course. 

Channer said she will facilitate more group discussion around the RATE tool if she continues to use it because she believes discussion will reduce student perception of the tool as busywork.

In addition to promoting the practical value of liberal arts degrees, Channer said CLA should emphasize their importance beyond potential for financial success. Encouraging the types of creative thinking taught in the liberal arts could alleviate tension in the United States’ polarized climate, she said.

“Theater students are incredibly skilled at … busting out of old ways of thinking into new ways. I think … that’s what we need the most right now. We’re so polarized,” she said. “I feel like it’s an exciting thing for liberal arts to stop pretending they’re not important and to say, ‘actually we should be right at the center of the conversation.’”

CLA also hopes to help students make more intentional choices about their education, Koerner said. Frequently, students fill electives with courses that seem fun rather than thinking intentionally about building their skills. CLA staff hope framing education in terms of competencies can be helpful in guiding students’ education, he said.

Channer said that while advisors are key players in this process, faculty have an important role as well.

“If you’re talking to a student who’s just here to give in their money and get out their degree so that they can go get a job, we have to awaken that person from their slumber,” she said.