Looking Beyond Degrees in hiring

In the midst of the pandemic, there are again renewed calls for re-thinking the value- and ROI- of a college degree [and the requisite residential life surrounding being in a classroom]. We know the impact of Covid has hit harder in minority communities; that minority students are disproportionately impacted and their capacity to pay for their degree has been greatly affected by the tremendous job losses throughout the country. I view this discussion within this context as consequential, in particular, for community colleges where almost 50% of all minority students are enrolled).

In the recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s newsletter, The Edge, reporter Goldie Blumenstyk discussed the new executive order of President Trump which urged federal agencies to “look beyond degrees.” She reviews the pros and cons….:

Hopes — and doubts — about new attention to skills in hiring.

This month I wrote that I wasn’t sure what to make of President Trump’s executive order urging federal agencies to look beyond degrees in hiring, especially since it came as colleges face their biggest headwinds in memory. I appreciate the insights many of you shared.

Advocates for skills-based hiring tend to see it as a way to level the playing field for qualified job candidates who happen not to be college graduates. And some of you see the federal move as an opportunity for higher ed. Rovy Branon, vice provost for the University of Washington’s Continuum College, said that while degrees can signal mastery of skills, colleges need to do a better job of accurately capturing and verifying that. Now is the time, he said, “to create faster and cheaper pathways for a new market that wants and needs it.” And Shalin Jyotishi, of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, noted that “sometimes a degree isn’t the only/right credential a learner needs, and that’s OK.” Jyotishi, the assistant director for economic development and community engagement at APLU, also put in a plug for an op-ed he just co-wrote, arguing for embedding industry certifications into degree programs, an approach that was popular with readers of The Edge when I wrote about it in December.

Less positively, I heard from folks wondering whether the new order would create confusion — and perhaps worse. Matthew Hora, of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, worried that implementation could emphasize assessments of so-called “soft skills” like communication that are “cultural constructions” and could “open the door to even more hiring discrimination.”

A related concern for me: In recent weeks, we’ve seen a bevy of announcements from colleges, companies, and nonprofits about new programs to help people skill up, especially in the digital realm. The list includes Google’s new career certifications and scholarships, Microsoft’s “global skills initiative,” the Digital US coalition, and the new nonprofit SkillUp. As well meaning as these initiatives seem, they miss the bigger issue — that many of the 40 million newly unemployed people didn’t lose their jobs because they lacked skills. They lost them because the pandemic shut down their workplaces.

Maybe that’s the jolt that will prompt some to find better jobs, but skills alone won’t guarantee a shiny new career. Better coordination of state work-force policies, as this new effort calls for, could help. Ultimately, though, we need a much stronger, growing economy, and that is at least a few years away, if we’re lucky (and if more people would just wear masks). Without a recovery, this Huffington Post reporter’s assessment is worth remembering: “Re-skilling is sort of like playing musical chairs: People are racing to grab a job and sit down, and not everyone will get a seat.”

Education abroad and the student employability gap (looking ahead to the return of student mobility…)

My latest blog for @TheEAIE discussing why, “In a post-Covid world, the agenda of higher education systems throughout the world will remain, of necessity, closely aligned with issues of global workforce development.”


There is evidence of a widespread gap in understanding among students about the value of international experience to their overall studies. This produces a mismatch between student expectations and those of employers, who expect the experience to better prepare students for the workplace. To close this knowledge gap, the benefits and impact of learning outcomes from well-structured international experience for student employability need to be effectively communicated to students and their families. One way to do this is through increased harmonization of messaging and advising practices among faculty and education abroad program administrators

Employability Amplified: The Power of Global Internships

I am especially pleased to share this guest post by Davina Potts, an Australian colleague whose research -on the impact of education abroad on student employability- I’ve widely cited in my work on this topic. She is currently Associate Director, Careers, Employability & Global Learning at the University of Melbourne. This blog follows publication of her latest research for the International Education Association of Australia, “Career Outcomes of Learning Abroad.”


A new study on the Career Outcomes of Learning Abroad for graduates of Australian universities has found that global internships provide significantly greater work-related benefits from the perspective of former participants, than other types of learning abroad programs. Participation in any type of learning abroad promoted positive growth in skills and competencies that were relevant to the workplace. However, the impact was amplified for respondents who undertook an internship, professional practicum or clinical placement while abroad.

The COVID-19 global health emergency has thrown our world and our higher education systems into chaos. Against this backdrop, it may be difficult to understand why these results are important. Considering that the classes of 2020 and 2021 will be graduating into the worst economic conditions we have ever experienced, employability is more important than ever. Our students will need extra support to enter an intensely competitive job market. We can use these research findings to provide additional support by helping them to reflect on their international experiences and related skills development. More than ever, they will need to be able to tell their story and convince prospective employers of the value they will bring to their organization. And if they have undertaken a global internship, they are already a step ahead.

The Career Outcomes of Learning Abroad project surveyed more than 3,300 alumni of Australian universities who participated in learning abroad programs to understand the connections between international study, careers and employment. The study included respondents from 36 of 39 public universities, a broadly representative, national sample and is the largest learning abroad outcomes project conducted in Australia. The final report has recently been published by the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA).

The study included participants of all types of learning abroad programs including classes at a host university, study tours, research and internships. Two hundred and eleven participants (6.3%) indicated that they undertook an internship as the main activity of their international education experience. Across 4 areas of career impact, internships were rated as providing significantly greater benefit than other program formats. These areas were:

  • Developing skills to support your professional role
  • Obtaining your first job in your field of study
  • Obtaining subsequent career-related jobs
  • Developing your professional knowledge

Across nine employability skills tested, internships had a significantly higher impact on:

  • Teamwork, and
  • Problem-solving skills

(differences reported here were significant at the P=.05 level).

These findings are important because of the endorsement they provide for the value of global internships. This is an area where we need more evidence to advocate for our work, and to demonstrate to students the possible return on investment for the time, effort and cost of gaining international work experience. 

It’s important to note that the characteristics of internship participants were different to the overall sample – they were more likely to be studying a health discipline, to have studied abroad for seven weeks or less, and were more likely to be working for a public or non-profit organization. They were also more likely to be graduate students when they studied abroad.

Moving forward, institutions have the opportunity to build more opportunities for work experience programs into their learning abroad offerings. While the findings of this study are particular to one national context, they support similar findings in other countries and there are good reasons to believe that global internships can provide all graduates with a competitive edge in the job market. I am advocating for Australian universities to use this time of pause in regular learning abroad operations to partner with organisations (providers, companies, government agencies etc) to build internship and other practical experience programs. When our students are able to travel again, we will be ready and able to support even more students to undertake internships abroad.

In 2019, the Australian Government introduced performance-based funding for universities. In the future, 40% of the possible funding available under the scheme will be awarded based on graduate employment outcomes (specifically, employment status 4 months after graduation). For our institutions, guiding our students to success in employment has become more important than ever before. Learning abroad, specifically global internships, are one tool available to support graduate success.

My First Encounter With Racism on an American Campus

It was Spring, 1968 and I was in my senior year at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The unrest throughout my four years was largely around the anti-war movement against the Vietnam war. In January, I was deeply involved with the first drug raid by police on an American campus…I was active in residential affairs and in the administration’s irrational and seat-of-the-pants policy regarding drug use. But, that’s not what this piece is about…

I had applied to enter an MA program in Student Personnel Affairs at Colgate University in upstate N.Y. I grew up in Brooklyn, and even traveling 60 miles to the then rural Stony Brook campus on Long Island was a cross-cultural experience. Colgate asked me to come up for an interview . I had never ventured this far north of NY City.

I had no knowledge about the history of Colgate. I did know it was an all male institution and had been since its founding in the late 19th century. Colgate had taken small steps to recruit black students – largely from NY City. However, it was a sea of white male privilege [although that adjective was not in common usage then]. There were no administrators of color and I do not recall any faculty of color.

Martin Luther King was assassinated in April. The reverberations were immediately felt at Colgate.

Here is what happened prior to my arrival for the interview: Only a few days after King’s murder,a few black students were walking along the main street running parallel to campus where many fraternity houses were located. Some fraternity students were sitting on top of the roof of their house- and one of them SHOT at the black students walking by the house…I only learned of this after my arrival on campus for my interview.

The story is told in this first-person narrative by an alumnus in this historical piece published by Colgate : https://200.colgate.edu/looking-back/moments/administration-building-sit-1968

And so, in the aftermath of this tragedy, I began the odyssey of my graduate study with nine other men in 1968-69. It was a year of ongoing tension,confusion, and absence of coherent leadership by a white Dean of Students who had been at the university for 30 years. He was completely unprepared to navigate change. We in the graduate program often had to manage our relationship to students, to the racism and absence of clear policy-on our own. We were actively in the middle of daily incidents taking place.

This was the beginning of my career in student affairs. I was 22 years old upon graduation. Colgate then hired me as Director of the Cutten House residential complex [where I had been during my Fellowship studies]. Two others in my class were hired on to manage other residence halls. Many decades later,during a family trip to Ellis Island, I learned that the man for whom Colgate had named the residence hall was a racist and well known for advocating a policy of racial exclusion with respect to immigration policy. A quote by him was written on the wall of one of the main buildings under the Statue of Liberty.

At the end of my first year in my first job, in 1970, Colgate terminated my contract saying the position was not going to be filled the following year. I had been an activist administrator – we all were. There was student protest over my being “let go.” A grad school colleague resigned his position. I was then 23….adrift.

Race and racism, as you will see if you read the article above, continue to impact education at Colgate.

A Students’ Place in the World

Written in 2016, I wrote this post after reading an essay about teaching students, “the art of being human.” I know that 2020 grads, especially those from low-income families, are facing extremely difficult times and an extraordinarily fragile economy. I’ve been using my Twitter feed, @tillman_marty, to post and comment on advice to students and provide perspective about how campuses are struggling to support students. So, it may appear glib or irrelevant to talk about anything other than finding a job. Nevertheless, it might be helpful to reflect on the issue of the “return” on one’s investment in obtaining a degree:

“Either you believe the purpose of going to college is to be able to secure a (preferably high-paying) job, or you think there is something more intrinsically valuable to be gained from the years spent earning a degree. As in how did your college experience shape your humanity?

My question is: When did these become mutually exclusive?”

Global Career Compass

In the cycle of life, it’s that time once again. Students are graduating from colleges and universities across the country and for many, the unanswered question is: Now what?

Shortly, NAFSA: Association of International Educators will conduct its annual international conference in Denver. And one of its major speakers is NY Times columnist, David Brooks. In thinking about graduation and what “place” lies ahead for millions of youths, I re-read his September 8, 2014 Times column, “Becoming a Real Person.”

Brooks references three different missions of the current university: commercial (preparing for work), cognitive (acquisition of information & knowledge), and moral purpose (building an integrated understanding of self).  Of course, a week later, the Times published several letters to the editor from campuses around the country. The gist of these responses was that students should not have to choose one path over another.

A good follow-up to the Brooks column…

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Are You Facing Job Insecurity? Or Deep Into It…

Where the Field of International Education Finds Itself in 2020

  • Reassess your personal needs & professional expectations in this extremely fluid and unprecedented time
  • The pandemic has radically halted the momentum built up over the past decade in our field –the expansion of education abroad has been stalled everywhere as has the globalization of student mobility
  • Predictions are difficult: As with other sectors, campuses and providers in the education abroad community have differing strengths and weaknesses. Last year, IIE (over 100 years old) in NY went through financial difficulty, CIEE (75 yrs old) just laid off 600 staff and had to cancel all of their intl programs.  
  • It’s hard to predict or “play” the job market now. We are left with more questions than answers: Will campuses re-hire furloughed program staff? Will campuses re-open programs to the same destinations later this year and into 2021?  Will we see a more splintered geographic map for education abroad? Less mobility to developing nations whose infrastructure and health systems are now devastated? 
  • Will the coming generation of students measurably turn away from international experience outside the U.S. and instead look to domestic programs with a focus on internationalization-at-home? For example, service-learning
  • Will all the chaos facing the field now result in setting back efforts to diversify the IE field?

What are the implications for you as a job seeker in the field?

  • Likely that new hiring will be on hold for many months (perhaps deep into 2021); at least until we know more about when the economy can “re-open.”
  • When airlines again fly their usual routes…When it’s clear how campuses and providers are able to re-schedule programs they can still afford to offer and to safe destinations.
  • When campuses and providers more clearly see what their short and medium term financial situation looks like.

What you can do?

  • Reflect on your transferable skills. Strengthen new ones!
  • Review and re-assess your strengths – identify skill deficits which could be a bridge to new employment (e.g. language, public speaking, tech)
  • Research organizations which align with your skills, interests and values
  • Revive & renew professional networking; identify new contacts in a purposeful way. Lean-in to your trusted friends and colleagues.
  • Discern who are your most trusted allies and actively seek out their counsel

These are two organizations run by trusted professionals whom I know and have worked with. See if the resources they provide offer you opportunities to hone your skills and explore new paths to employability:

Global Leadership League


The Global Leadership League was started by a group of women in the field of international education for the purposes of advancing women’s leadership skills, knowledge, and connections.


Melibee Global

The Swarm on Culture, Identity, and  Perspective. An innovative, experiential, and practical LIVE online gathering to explore culture, identity, and perspective in a very unique way. 


Scholarships for The Swarm: https://crafty-producer-6700.ck.page/iceasoo

Career Advising in a Paused Economy

This piece was written by a student at USC, Andrea Klick, an editorial intern at Open Campus.

Rather than quoting the many pieces out there now by career professionals (and I was one for 11 years at Johns Hopkins-SAIS), I thought it would be as relevant to cite what a current student is hearing — and it’s simple and straightforward: Don’t be idle. Reach out.  It’s a zig-zag. The pandemic is having an uneven and unequal impact. While this is always true, I think the weight on low-income minority students is especially heavy. Advice like this can sound glib, albeit well-intentioned, when a student needs to take any job they can find to support themselves.

I think the point about “zig-zagging” is especially important for grads. The economy is going to improve slowly, unevenly and perhaps without a clear pathway into different sectors. So, yes, you’ve got to be flexible, manage your expectations [i.e. lower them to match the reality we are in] and look in new directions [find roles where the skills you have will provide unexpected value to an employer]. Klick writes:

As unemployment rates climb and companies freeze hiring, recent graduates are struggling to find work and current students are suddenly finding their internships and summer jobs canceled. Colleges are scrambling to try to help. They’re moving services like resume editing and interview practice online. They’re teaching students skills like how to make interpersonal connections while talking through a webcam. And they’re connecting students with alumni, parents, companies, and local organizations to try to help them find new jobs or shorter-term projects and internships. 

In the midst of change and uncertainty, Neil Burton, who runs Clemson’s Center for Career and Professional Development, is focused on building students’ confidence. He’s reminding them that even if they hear a lot of “noes” they should keep trying—even now.For recent graduates and current students whose opportunities are drying up or being canceled, Burton says there are always ways to build job prospects. Here’s what he advises: Don’t be idle. If students can’t find work right now, Burton encourages them to continue building skills through online classes or self-run projects. When the economy picks up, they’ll be able to show experience they gained rather than a large gap in their education or work history. Reach out. Communicating and building relationships can help students find opportunities down the road. With many employers working from home, Burton encourages students to reach out and talk with people in positions or companies they like for informational interviews. It may not lead to a job tomorrow, but expanding their network could help in the long run.  It’s a zig-zag. Especially now, students’ first jobs likely won’t be at their dream company. Burton says to remember that careers often change, and most people’s paths aren’t simple. Don’t get bogged down if you’re offered a less-than-ideal job. Students and recent grads should take advantage of the opportunities they have, to build skills and connections however they can. 

My latest book chapter on education abroad and employability

As the Covid pandemic has decimated all types of education abroad, there will need to be a re-imagination of how to market in-country international experience. This will require a new approach to advocating for the return-on-investment of education abroad. As I say here: “There will be a sharp decline in the availability of overseas options for education abroad – highly likely for six months to a year- and we will need to fuel unmet student demand to build their cross-cultural skills and other interpersonal competencies, highly valued by employers, with experiences at home.”

Global Career Compass

Coming out in July!! https://lnkd.in/dDuR2eN. My chapter in Education Abroad: Bridging Scholarship and Practice, is with co-authors, C. Matherly & J. Wiers-Janssen on “Employability: How education abroad impacts transition to employment.”

This is the latest in a series of chapters I’ve authored since 2012 on this topic. My interest in examining the employability advantages to students from their participation in education abroad programs dates back to the early 2000s. You will find a large selective bibliography -including all of my writing and that of varied authors from around the world – on my LinkedIn profile page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/martintillman/

When I first began to address the linkage between education abroad and student career development, including its tie-in with employability, I was largely viewing the topic from a uniquely American lens. In the early 2000s, I found few others in the U.S., in the international education field, examining this issue. Much of…

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Best Practice in Creating a Virtual Internship

I’m pleased to have this guest post by a colleague, Kelly Holland, Director of Institutional Relations, Global Experiences, https://globalexperiences.com  

At a time when the entire education abroad community, on and off campus, has been forced to halt its overseas programs, those sponsoring international internships (and domestic ones as well) have responded quickly to offer an alternative virtual model. I’ve known about the excellent work at Global Experiences for a long time; the program recognizes the importance of linking experiential learning with student career development.  Perhaps more students will realize what research has shown- that the applied skills developed from a well-structured internship are valued as much, if not more, than study abroad.

Kelly writes:

Staff across our industry worked tirelessly to bring home Spring semester students as Covid-19 swept through Western Europe and into the U.S., managing everything from flights to academic continuation to housing to refunds. For the team at Global Experiences (GE) – we focused on workplace and academic continuity for our international interns.

The GE employer network is composed of more than 3,000 contacts across a wide range of industries, from small and medium companies, to large multinationals . As employers shut their physical doors, they opened their virtual doors to our interns. With grace, flexibility, and compassion more than half of our host employers agreed to continue providing projects for active Spring interns and allowed us early insight into the virtual internship concept.

A GE international internship (both on-location and virtual) includes up to four major stakeholders: the student, the employer, the GE staff, and the university. With all groups working toward the same goals this Spring, GE quickly identified the need for a sustainable virtual internship program now launching this summer.

As multiple options appear across the international education industry, here are six things look for in a virtual internship:

  • Is the internship placement guaranteed? Make sure the commitment is clear from all parties. A written position description, acceptance letter, and description of tasks is a good place to start.
  • Is there a support structure in place for the intern? Some combination of online portal, real-time support, and dedicated staff are key.
  • What  will be done throughout the program to ensure success? Both intern and employer will benefit from frequent check-ins during the program to catch any issues of concern to either party.
  • Who are the employers? How are they being vetted to host a virtual intern? Work with a provider who has a network of employers that they know, and trust. Ask if they are providing support to their employers; what does it look like?
  • Who decides the schedule and the projects? Establish a clear line of communication for student, employer, and academic staff. Encourage the student to own their experience and encourage them to ask for assistance.
  • What else is included? Look for personal and professional development, career readiness tools, cultural opportunities, and a variety of access points (webinars, live chats, and assignments.)

For the foreseeable future, it’s likely that demand will grow for a wider range of virtual cross-cultural learning experiences.  We all  must continue to work tirelessly, creatively, and with intention. If executed well, virtual internships can be an accessible, affordable option that may empower students looking for ways to impact their career path in this uncertain time.

Learn more about GE’s virtual internships:



How Tulane University Changed the Student Experience After Hurricane Katrina – A Model Now?

I thought to search for documents about what happened to see if there might be a useful template for campuses who will likely need to re-imagine parts of their curricula offerings in the next few years. I recalled there was a complete re-focus on the university’s role in the re-building of New Orleans.

I remembered there was a renewed effort to re-design all kinds of service-learning options for students –and here is one analysis of how the university’s curriculum changed: https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/look-tulane-universitys-service-learning-post-katrina/

Tulane’s Center for Public Service (CPS)–transformed from a Center for Service-Learning in 2006–has been working aggressively over the last three years to ensure that all constituents- community partner, student and faculty – are favorably matched and successful. CPS’s work and the implementation of the two tiered service-learning requirement has created a constant, renewable and free work-force for almost 100 community organizations throughout the city.

There will be a host of emerging critical needs in campus communities as the country begins what I believe will be a period of years for full recovery from the pandemic. The mission of every college and university will need to embrace the critical needs of the communities in which they reside.

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