07/10/2013 03:30 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

Why Colleges Are Teaching Professional Readiness

Today's students seek more out of higher education than just classroom knowledge. Recent surveys reinforce the notion that students are placing an increased emphasis on the employment-related benefits of post-secondary education. One survey found that an all-time high of 87.9 percent of incoming freshmen in 2012 cited "to be able to get a better job" as a very important reason for attending college. Given the investment students and their families make to cover costs for higher education, the rise of this sentiment is understandable -- people expect to see a return on investment from higher education.

This demand has resulted in extensive curricula revisions by many higher education institutions to ensure that professional readiness is a primary component of a student's coursework. The overall goal behind implementing these curriculum adjustments is to fully equip students with the tools necessary to become marketable graduates ready to enter the workforce. By teaching professional readiness, students learn the importance of updating work skills, being adaptable to the constantly changing workplace, and searching for information about job opportunities and training seminars, among other activities.

Teaching students how to be a strong job candidate inside the classroom walls encompasses the development of skills essential for career success and advancement. Consider the value of interpersonal communication. No matter the career, interpersonal communication has proven to be essential, and educators are addressing it most often through public speaking courses. In recent years, managers increasingly expect their staff to be able to lead a successful presentation to clients, the general public or simply within the organization. Many programs additionally incorporate media literacy, which provides an overview of how students can be active yet socially cognizant and responsible users of technology and social media.

As more organizations embrace professional readiness, many higher education leaders have responded by incorporating these programs into their organizations' overall mission, because these programs clearly enhance students' educational experiences. More than ever, executive leaders value well-rounded college graduates who are committed to internships, have developed a strong portfolio of work samples and possess ethical decision-making skills. From an employer's point of view, job candidates displaying these specific qualifications are infinitely more valuable than candidates who have only mastered classroom knowledge and comprehension.

But how do colleges and universities' first determine the specific professional skills that employers are seeking? To gauge employers' expectations many institutions are partnering with business leaders to modify course offerings to help students meet the needs of today's expanding marketplace. The adjustments reap rewards for everyone involved. Higher education institutions stay current in the industries where they offer majors, provide students insights into what abilities are needed to improve job prospects, and show businesses and the community that participating schools are imparting lessons that are beneficial to society as a whole. The partnership provides schools with a platform to better prepare the next generation of employees, which can lead to identifiable job candidates that meet a company's specific job requirements. Additionally, partnering with business leaders helps universities and colleges gain insight into what new majors are needed in their markets and what classes will help train students pursuing degrees in those industries. It is the sort of synergy all parties involved need for long-term, sustainable success.

When all parts of a professional readiness program come together successfully, student job candidates and business managers are able to benefit from one of the most critical skills needed in today's workplace -- effective communication. Employers want team members who coherently express opinions, listen intently and understand the objectives of executive personnel. This requirement has prompted many professional development courses to emphasize both written and oral communication skills, often throughout the college experience. If and when other needs are determined necessary to emphasize, colleges and universities are flexible in adapting to changing demands, with the understanding that programs that more effectively prepare students for employment are instrumental in successfully securing post-graduation employment.

As other educators have discussed how professional readiness is absolutely required even before a student enters the workforce, it is obvious that this movement will continue to grow. Students cannot learn through osmosis -- these future job candidates need guidance and insight on what works and why. By teaching professional readiness, colleges and universities are assisting our nation's efforts to create a better workforce for tomorrow by effectively using today's resources.

Dr. Debra M. Townsley is president of William Peace University (formerly Peace College), a private four-year university located in downtown Raleigh, N.C.