Higher Education Assessments Prepare Students for Success in the Workplace

Do Your Students Have the Higher-Order Skills They’ll Need for the Innovation Economy?

Let’s chat about how CAE’s higher education assessments and curriculum builds students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and written communication skills and prepares them for academic and career success.

Do Your Students Have the Higher-Order Skills They’ll Need for the Innovation Economy?

Workforce readiness is a primary goal of higher education institutions. Workforce readiness refers to students’ possession of the skills, knowledge, and attributes necessary to enter and succeed in the workforce. In order to be prepared for their careers, students need to encompass a broad range of abilities and characteristics that will equip them to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving workplace.

Some of these abilities include technical skills and subject matter knowledge. But the skills that are most in demand by today’s employers are often not explicitly taught by colleges and universities.

These are higher-order skills, and research shows that they can be measured and taught using higher education assessments. Three of the most crucial higher-order skills include critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information to make informed decisions and solve problems. It’s a vital skill for all career paths because it enables individuals to approach challenges with a thoughtful and discerning mindset.

Problem Solving

Problem-solving skills are crucial in addressing the many complex issues that arise in the workplace. Individuals need to be able to  identify problems, develop creative and effective solutions, and adapt their strategies as needed.

Written Communication

Effective written communication is essential for conveying ideas, sharing information, and collaborating with colleagues. Strong writing skills are valuable not only for creating reports, proposals, and documentation but also for clear and concise communication with supervisors and co-workers.

In addition to preparing students for the workplace, higher-order skills also support student learning in higher education. Colleges and universities, therefore, should utilize assessment and evaluation of higher-order skills so they are equipped with the data and insight needed to help students develop the skills needed to succeed in school and following graduation. 

The Benefits of Assessing Higher-Order Skills

Higher-order skills — also referred to as soft skills, durable skills, and future-ready skills — go beyond basic academic knowledge and involve critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world contexts. These skills empower students to become adaptable, resourceful, and effective problem solvers, and they prepare students to thrive in an ever-evolving world.

Higher-order skills are increasingly becoming more important than academic knowledge or technical skills, and they can set students apart in a competitive, and changing, job market. Employers recognize that candidates with strong higher-order skills are more effective, more adaptable, and are able to work well with others, and contribute positively to the workplace culture.

Institutions can measure higher-order skills with performance-based higher education assessments like CAE’s Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+). Research has shown that strong performance on the CLA+ is predictive of success in higher education and the workplace.

Entering students who score well on the CLA+ have higher cumulative GPAs at the end of their senior year when compared with traditional higher education entrance assessments.

Students who perform better on CLA+:

Higher-order skills are not only essential for individual career development but also for the overall success and growth of organizations — and the economy. A 2021 study by Gartner estimated that 33% of the skills listed in a typical job description in 2017 were basically obsolete by 2021. And a 2020 McKinsey Global Survey found that only one-third of respondents say their companies are prepared to cope with the workforce disruptions resulting from technology and market trends. Hiring managers are responding by putting greater emphasis on higher-order skills. An analysis by Indeed of job postings 2023 found the following higher-order skills reference most in job descriptions:

    • Communication
    • Organization
    • Interpersonal Skills
    • Time Management
    • Leadership
    • Management
    • Negotiation

In many cases, strong higher-order skills can be the deciding factor in hiring, as they are difficult to teach and develop in a professional setting.

Assessing Learners in Higher Education: The Skills Gap Is Real.

Research shows that students are not graduating from higher education institutions with the higher-order skills that employers want. This means students are not learning these skills in secondary school or higher education settings.

60% of hiring managers say that recent college graduates do not have the necessary critical thinking and problem-solving skills and 44% saying graduates lack writing proficiency.

Source: PayScale (2016) survey of ~64k managers

60% of U.S. students entering colleges and universities are not proficient in critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication.

Source: CLA+ data from Fall 2013 (AY14) throughout Spring 2019 (AY18)

44% say graduates lack writing proficiency.

Source: CLA+ data from Fall 2013 (AY14) throughout Spring 2019 (AY18)

How Can Higher Education Assessment of Higher-Order Skills Prepare Students for the Workplace?

Measuring students’ higher-order skills with a quality higher education assessment can help ensure they succeed in the workplace. Here’s how:

Critical Thinking

  • Measuring and teaching students’ critical thinking skills will prepare them to assess and analyze information, ideas, and situations in a systematic and logical manner. 
  • Employees who can think critically are better equipped to make sound decisions, solve complex problems, and adapt to changing circumstances. 
  • This skill is essential in various professions, as it helps individuals identify and evaluate opportunities, risks, and potential improvements in processes and strategies.

Problem Solving

  • Measuring and teaching problem-solving skills will help students identify, understand, and resolve challenges and obstacles they encounter in the workplace. 
  • Effective problem solvers can develop creative solutions, make decisions, and implement actions to achieve desired outcomes. 
  • Problem-solving skills are highly desired because they enhance an organization’s efficiency and innovation.

Written Communication

  • Measuring and teaching effective communication skills will ensure students are able to convey ideas, share information, and build relationships with colleagues and clients. 
  • Both written and verbal communication skills are necessary for communicating with colleagues, supervisors, and clients. They are also used in various other aspects of business, including presentations, reports, emails, and meetings.
  • Strong communication skills promote understanding, minimize misunderstandings, and foster a positive working environment.

CAE’s Higher Education Assessments and Instructional Materials Support the Development of Higher-Order Skills

Higher education institutions often assume that higher-order skills are being taught in courses across curricula. However, a six-year international study conducted by CAE and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that students graduating from colleges and universities in fact experience very little growth (d = 0.10) in their critical thinking and other higher order skills like problem solving and written communication. CAE partners with higher education institutions to integrate critical thinking instruction into courses and to measure students’ proficiency and growth with higher-order skills. CAE provides performance-based assessments, instructional materials, practice models, and professional development to:

We can help you create a program that:


    • Measures students’ higher-order skills
    • Helps faculty effectively use higher-order skills data to inform instruction and target interventions
    • Explicitly teaches students higher-order skills
    • Gives students opportunities to practice and build their higher-order skills

CAE’S Higher Education Assessments and Curriculum in Action

Texas A&M’s Mays Business School and CAE have partnered to develop critical thinking instruction, a framework that can be used throughout the college. See how CAE’s performance-based assessments are helping educators improve student success.

A Closer Look at the CLA+ Higher Education Assessment

CLA+ is a higher education assessment that measures student proficiency in critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication.

Here’s how the performance-based assessment works:

  • Unlike traditional assessments, CLA+ is a performance-based critical thinking assessment that authentically measures students’ higher-order skills. 
  • The higher education assessment situates students in real-world scenarios that require the application of critical thinking, problem-solving, and written communication skills. 
  • Using supplied reference materials, students must organize information, define the problem, address issues, consider and evaluate solutions, and recommend and defend a course of action. 
  • Student scores reflect a range of plausible and effective response strategies — a process that, by design, mimics real-world, decision environments.
  • The resulting data can be used for formative and summative purposes, including evaluating how well students have developed essential skills at the beginning and/or end of a particular class or academic year, or to measure growth over multiple years.

CLA+ Student and Institution Data Reports

Detailed student and institution-level reports of CLA+ results provide insightful data that can be used to:  

Detailed student and institution-level reports can be used to:

  • Evaluate how your students compare to peers in your institution and across CAE’s extensive data set
  • Measure the effectiveness of specific curriculum, interventions, and programs 
  • Provide evidence-based microcredentials that showcase to colleges and employers proficiency with higher-order skills, including critical thinking

CAE’s Higher-Order Instructional Materials

To help students prepare to use their higher-order skills in post-graduate studies or the workplace, CAE has developed activities and practice models that provide students with the opportunity to put their critical thinking, problem-solving, and written communication skills into action in real-world scenarios. 

Our team would be happy to walk you through a sample activity, including the accompanying instructor materials.

Support the Explicit Instruction of Higher-Order Skills and Use of Higher Education Assessment Data with Professional Development

CAE’s professional development is designed to equip educators with the skills and knowledge to measure and build students’ higher-order skills. Our customizable programs provide higher education institutions with the tools and data needed to develop courses, programs, and supports to improve their students’ higher-order skills and prepare them for success after graduation. 

Professional development options include support for:

  • Education leaders to develop higher-order skills measurement and evaluation programs 
  • Educators to create performance tasks for classroom use
  • Educators to integrate critical thinking instruction into their courses
  • Educators and administrators to utilize higher education assessment data

If you’d like to learn more about CAE’s higher education assessments, curriculum, and professional development, please get in touch and schedule a time to chat with us.


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