A Data-Driven Employer-Academia Partnership for Continual Computing Curricular Change

Author(s):
Allen Parrish
Executive Director - Alabama Transportation Institute
The University of Alabama

Collaborative Research:
A Data-Driven Employer-Academia Partnership for Continual Computing Curricular Change
Lead Principal Investigator: Allen Parrish, The University of Alabama

A widening gap exists between employer-perceived lack of career readiness and academic preparation of computing graduates. Even as employers continue to hire such graduates, many major employers–Amazon, Google, and Microsoft–have themselves entered the education space to offer training certificates likely to be used akin to traditional undergraduate degrees. Concurrent with the development of alternative computing credentials has been an increased focus on competency-based education. Competencies clarify the depth of the various non-standard credentials that have emerged, as they reflect a way to assess skills. Recent higher education computing curricular guidelines, such as IT2017 and CC2020 from ACM and IEEE Computer Society, have also emphasized competencies.

Need: For academic computing education to continue to be relevant, the gap between academic preparation of academic computing graduates and employer expectations needs to be reduced. To reduce that gap, the gap first needs to be defined and quantified and then goals established for both sides to adjust. Academic computing education needs to move closer to employer expectations, and hiring managers need to determine what they need from academic computing education, and how this differs from alternative computing education credentials.

Guiding Questions: Key research questions include: (1) Can this “expectation gap” be quantified through competency-based hiring frameworks and competency-based curricular definitions? (2) Can academic computing education achieve improved alignment with employer expectations through program modification and/or innovative alternative credentialing programs of its own? (3) Can the utilization of a formal, intentional change management process motivate, inform, and reinforce change by the academic community and a clarification of expectations from the employer community?
Outcomes: Outcomes of this project include (a) a formal competency model to improve communication between academic programs and employers; (b) an ongoing permanent employer survey, and other interactions, to improve actionable communication flow from the employer community to academic programs; (c) innovative alternative credentialing programs to help bridge the gap between the two communities.

Broader Impacts: Improved alignment between the academic and employer communities will mean that academic graduates are better prepared for industry careers and are therefore more likely to remain employed over time – thus potentially improving employment and labor participation rates within this job sector. The development of alternative credentials may provide more and better access to jobs from a broader community that is not otherwise college bound. This could improve access to education, jobs, and long-term careers for a more diverse population. As the competency viewpoint in curricular design is relatively new in computing and engineering disciplines, this project has the potential to impact curricular review and design in other STEM disciplines. Finally, the developed change management tools can be adapted easily to effect change in other STEM programs. For example, the proposed national survey for computing employers can stimulate other STEM disciplines into organizing similar large-scale feedback.

Coauthors

Rajendra Raj, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY; Rahul Simha, George Washington University, Washington, DC; Marisa Exter, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN