Whiting School of Engineering Student Team Examined Public Higher Education Retention and Graduation Rates

The Council for Aid to Education, Inc. (CAE), a nonprofit developer of performance-based and custom assessments that authentically measure students’ essential college and career readiness skills, collaborated with students at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) during the spring 2021 semester to analyze how public universities can use assessments to support states’ education and employment goals.

The project was included in the curriculum of an undergraduate strategic business management course at the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering. The coursework provided a team of students with vital analytical career preparation and hands-on experience solving real-world problems.

“CAE is honored to work with students from an esteemed institution such as Johns Hopkins to highlight the need for assessments that measure critical thinking, problem solving and effective written communication, skills employers value most,” said Bob Yayac, president and CEO, CAE. “Engaging them to not only conduct this research but to think strategically, and apply the knowledge in real-world settings, connects the coursework to their own next step.”

Comprising students in various majors including international affairs, economics and psychology, the student team compared large university systems in 10 states nationwide, considering broad implications and tools for acceptance and retention. They reviewed qualitative statistics and metrics including spending per state, scholarship spending, governance inside a state and graduation rates to best understand how states prioritized investments in higher education.

The students found that some states are clear in connecting higher education to employment goals and future economic health. For example, California will need 60% of its population to have a college education to meet workforce demand.

“In my view, standardized testing doesn’t show the full picture of a student’s potential for success. Assessing the skills that are actually scalable in the workforce, beyond higher education, is the key,” said Naushil Mehta, senior economics major. “That’s what drew my team to work on this project; we had gone through the college application process and felt those frustrations ourselves.”

CAE’s performance-based assessments Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), Success Skills Assessment (SSA+) and College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) situate students in real-world, complex decision environments where they must analyze and synthesize data, address important issues, propose solutions, and recommend courses of action to resolve conflicts. The assessments authentically measure the college and career readiness skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and effective written communication – skills most in demand by higher education institutions and employers.

Johns Hopkins faculty found that the combination of the management course framework combined with the real-world application of solving a specific problem increased the students’ engagement and strengthened their ability to learn more quickly and think strategically about issues.

“Employers are looking for higher-order thinking skills now: the ability to innovate, communicate and think, and to identify and solve problems,” said Lawrence Aronhime, associate teaching professor in JHU’s Center for Leadership Education. “The best way for students to develop those skills is to practice them in the kind of real-world environment this coursework provided.”

To learn more about CAE and assessments, visit www.cae.org.

About CAE
A nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve student outcomes, CAE develops performance-based and custom assessments that authentically measure students’ essential college and career readiness skills and identify opportunities for student growth. CAE’s Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) for higher education, College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for secondary education, and the new Success Skills Assessment (SSA+) for any level, evaluate the skills educational institutions and employers demand most: critical thinking, problem solving and effective written communication. Based on CAE’s research, these skills are predictive of positive college and career outcomes. CAE also partners with its clients to design innovative performance assessments that measure the constructs vital to students, educators, and institutions, including subject area and grade specific assessments. Since 2002, more than 800,000 students at over 1,300 secondary and higher education institutions globally have completed CAE’s assessments. To learn more, please visit www.cae.org.

About JHU’s CLE
Based in the Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering, the Center for Leadership Education offers minors, programs, and courses that provide students with real-world experience in innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.