UW-W LEAP program meets employer needs
Cook, the UW-W interim director of academic assessment, is the campus leader for LEAP—Liberal Education and America’s Promise. UW-W adopted the program created by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2010.
The program was created to reinvigorate liberal arts learning.
“LEAP recognized that skills such as critical thinking, a global perspective, the ability to write and speak well and understand math are valued skills by employers,” Cook said. “This year, we decided to review the program since it was created before the recent recession. We wanted to see if employers’ needs have changed, and the tie-in with leap year and leap day was a natural.”
Working with AACU, Cook decided to involved campuses and employers beyond Wisconsin and the Midwest.
“We ended up with 80 campuses logged in to the program on leap day including the California State University System,” Cook said. “We had employer representatives from Harley-Davidson, Clear Channel Outdoor and Harris Association, a Chicago investment firm, from our region, plus employers from other parts of the country.”
The UW-W program has involved 40 campus teams and 150 faculty, staff and students in the past two years.
“These teams work with employers to determine what skills we need to develop on campus to meet employer needs,” Cook said. “We got a clear picture of those needs during our leap day event.”
What Cook and others in the program found out is that employer needs have not changed because of the recession.
“The recession has created a need for employees who are flexible and adaptable,” Cook said. “There is an even greater need now for graduates who have the critical thinking skills and a global understanding. These liberal arts skills help graduates be more flexible and adaptable, and that’s what employers are telling us they need.”
Technical skills remain important, but they don’t guarantee sustained success, Cook said.
“As the world changes quickly and dramatically, technology also changes,” Cook said. “In some cases, technology becomes irrelevant with these changes. That’s why we see employers looking for graduates who not only possess certain skills, but also have the ability to be flexible—and that comes from a liberal arts education.”
Leap year won’t be back until 2016, but the UW-W LEAP program will be an ongoing program as the school continues to match its educational offerings to employer needs.
“I guess you could say every year will be a LEAP year here at UW-Whitewater,” Cook said.