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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

NILOA Guest Viewpoints

We’ve invited learning outcomes experts and thought leaders to craft a Viewpoint. We hope that these pieces will spark further conversations and actions that help advance the field. To join the conversation, click the link below the Viewpoint. You can also sign up here to receive monthly newsletters that headline these pieces along with NILOA updates, current news items, and upcoming conferences.


The EEQ CERT: A New Way to Assure and Communicate Program Quality, Relevance, & Value
Melanie Booth
Executive Director
The Quality Assurance Commons for Higher & Postsecondary Education


The Quality Assurance Commons for Higher & Postsecondary Education (The QA Commons) was established in the fall of 2016 to create a new approach to quality assurance that would respond to the changing landscape of higher and postsecondary education and would serve the needs of learners, employers, and our larger society. With funding from Lumina Foundation and in partnership with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), we have researched the landscape and identified the issues, challenges, and opportunities that a new quality assurance approach needs to address. 

As a result of our work—and in partnership with 27 academic programs from 14 institutions across the country—we have designed the Essential Employability Qualities Certification, or EEQ CERT. When implemented later this year, the EEQ CERT will certify bachelors, associates, and certificate programs that prepare graduates with the essential employability qualities.

Identifying the Gaps

A growing body of research reveals significant gaps between what students learn in higher education and what they need to be successful in career and life. Students and families continue to express grave concerns about the return on investment of higher education, and the general public has been increasingly skeptical about the meaning and value of postsecondary credentials. At the same time, employers express dissatisfaction with graduates they hire, indicating that the people they want to employ and need in their workforce must possess a set of qualities that allows them to contribute constructively and meaningfully in the workplace over time. While employers often refer to these qualities as “soft skills,” they are in fact essential qualities, and they are not specific to any discipline, field, or industry. In fact, they are applicable to most work-based environments across the variety of jobs and levels within organizations. These Essential Employability Qualities (EEQs) include people skills such as collaboration, teamwork, and cultural competence; problem-solving abilities such as inquiry, critical thinking, and creativity; and professional strengths such as communication, work ethic, and technological agility.   

Whether these gaps are real or perceived, we need a new way to communicate program quality, relevance, and value—a way that addresses graduate preparation for the complex, dynamic world of work of the 21st century.

Addressing & Assessing the Essential Employability Qualities

In considering the challenges that a new quality assurance approach needed to address, we recognized the limitations of traditional metrics around graduate employment, namely job placement rates, graduates’ starting salaries, and graduate and employer satisfaction, all of which provide a limited set of evidence about a program’s effectiveness. However, when we focus on employability, then learning—and the demonstration and assessment of learning—matters.

Employability is “the ability to find, create and sustain work and learning across lengthening working lives and multiple work settings.” The EEQs thus represent the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences that help graduates be ready not only for their first job, but also for a lifetime of engaging employment and participation in the rapidly changing workforce of the 21st century. The EEQs represent current and future employer expectations as reflected in numerous studies, such as those completed by, LinkedIn, ACT, the Foresight Alliance, Jobs for the Future, Career Tech, the Business Roundtable, O*NET, third way, National Network of Business and Industry Associations, and the Institute for the Future, to name a few.

The EEQs also nicely align with several nationally adopted academic frameworks, including the Degree Qualifications Profile, AAC&U’s Essential Learning Outcomes, NACE’s Career Readiness Competencies, and the Connecting Credentials Framework. By necessity, the EEQs are best developed through direct application; learners must have high impact opportunities in which to develop, practice, and apply their knowledge, skills, and abilities in work-relevant contexts. 

Partnering with Programs to Design a New Quality Assurance Approach Focusing on EEQs

Since September 2017, The QA Commons has partnered with 27 programs from 14 institutions to co-design a new way to evaluate program quality that is focused on developing learners’ EEQs. Our partner programs represent approximately 35,000 students and are diverse in their disciplines, degree levels, delivery models, faculty profiles, institutional types, accreditation, student demographics, and locations. This intentional diversity has allowed us to test ideas across multiple educational contexts, to identify possible value-propositions for different kinds of programs, and to learn from the variety of disciplines, fields, and approaches represented. Together we have created, tested, and continue to refine the Criteria for Certification.

The Criteria are both outcome-based and descriptive of high impact practices and conditions for preparing students for employability: 1) All graduates leave the program with assessed demonstration of the EEQs; 2) All students have effective support systems for employability; 3) Employers are engaged in the design, development, and evaluation of the program; 4) Students and graduates are engaged in assuring program quality; and 5) The program provides information about the program and its outcomes to prospective and current students, employers, and the public.

The Value of the EEQ CERT

The EEQ CERT provides a significant new way to address several current and emerging needs.

First, it will communicate to prospective students and their families the relevance and value of a given program. Students are looking for a return on their education investment – initially and over time – that leads to better quality of life and a better chance at paying off student debt efficiently. The EEQ CERT will provide third-party validation to reduce risk and increase confidence as students choose a program of study. It will also give graduates of EEQ CERT programs a way to communicate the quality of their preparation to prospective employers.

The second need that the EEQ CERT will address is a new way to signal to employers that a given program prepares its graduates for the world of work. The EEQ CERT will help make visible quality programs that could become “preferred providers” of talent for employers. The EEQ CERT will give employers a way to identify candidates who are ready to perform at high levels (now and as their jobs change), which could lead to reduced hiring and training costs and improved productivity.

Institutional leaders, including presidents and trustees, need to be able to demonstrate to prospective students, parents, donors, and industry/employer partners that they are meeting their institutional mission and contributing to the public good by preparing their students for employability. Having programs certified by an external third party for Essential Employability Qualities will greatly support efforts in student admissions, retention, completion, and satisfaction; employer and community-based partnership development and satisfaction; and alumni engagement and satisfaction. The EEQ CERT will also provide a form of accountability to public and private investors.

Finally, for many program faculty and administrators, ensuring that students graduate ready and able to apply their academic knowledge is becoming more and more critical. Academic leaders recognize the imperative that their programs be relevant and valuable given the changing world of work. Through encouraging the connection of academic learning to workforce needs and graduate employability, the EEQ CERT will provide insights and resources for groups interested in learning and developing important institutional conditions, program design elements, and teaching and learning practices. 

Developing Capacity with Promising EEQ Practices

While the EEQ CERT will serve to address the needs of a variety of stakeholders, we intend that the certification process along with our research about and dissemination of resources can help build program and institutional capacity to implement “high impact practices” and institutional conditions for preparing students for employability.

So far, each of our 27 partner programs has identified numerous promising practices for preparing their graduates with EEQs, including:

  • Career development programming integrated across the curriculum and over time;
  • Specially designed courses to support students in understanding the world of work and its expectations;
  • Experiential learning pathways—required or optional—that allow students to apply their learning in work situations;
  • Enhanced student records that convey learners’ EEQ development and outcomes;
  • Course-embedded community service projects to allow students to directly apply their learning to real community needs;
  • Undergraduate research designed to addresses real problems in an employer’s organization;
  • Employer engagement models that go well beyond the traditional Advisory Board into authentic partnerships, or even “employer-attached” curriculum and pedagogy;
  • Competency-based badging practices to communicate students’ abilities in visible, verifiable ways;
  • Capstone projects that are situated in workplaces and co-taught with employers;
  • Use of findings from well-designed alumni surveys, which address not only program satisfaction but also graduates’ sense of preparedness and feedback for program improvement;
  • A cross-campus integrated approach to career preparedness through civic engagement;
  • Teaching and assessment methods that are designed to develop and address expected EEQ exit proficiencies so all students graduate from the program fully prepared.

These are just a few of the promising practices and conditions that have emerged from the EEQ CERT co-design process, and we are eager to share more in the near future.

As many of our partner programs have illuminated, traditional forms of education and training are no longer sufficient as global and local conditions continually change, technology automates, and people must work differently. Learning approaches that address employers’ defined needs and include experiential and applied opportunities in work-relevant contexts for all students—and that focus on the Essential Employability Qualities—will be more critical than ever in the dynamic world of work of the 21st century. Furthermore, we have confirmed that evaluating program quality on metrics such as job placement and starting salaries leaves significant questions about graduates’ real career preparedness. We believe that by making workforce readiness academically rigorous and a part of all or nearly all curricula and certificate programs, we can assure prospective students and employers that graduates of EEQ Certified programs are ready for employment—now and into their future.




Check out our past Viewpoints:

The EEQ CERT: A New Way to Assure and Communicate Program Quality, Relevance, & Value
Melanie Booth

Bringing Student Voices to the Table: Collaborating with our Most Important Stakeholders
Ann E. Damiano

Responses to “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’”
Natasha Jankowski

Collaborating for Individual and Institutional Success: Libraries as Strategic Campus Partners
Jennifer Duncan, Kacy Lundstrom & Becky Thoms

Rethinking the Role of Work in Higher Education
David W. Marshall

Demand interoperability to dramatically improve the educational ecosystem
Jeff Grann

The Comprehensive Student Record at Dillard University
Demetrius Johnson

NILOA Remembers Assessment Pioneer Sister Joel Read of Alverno College
Peter Ewell, Pat Hutchings, & Russ Edgerton

The Neuroscience of Learning and Development: How can Evidence Legitimize Self-Reflection?
Marilee Bresciani Ludvik

Taking Stock of the Assessment Movement – Liberal Education, Winter, 2017
Peter Ewell, Pat Hutchings, Jillian Kinzie, George Kuh & Paul Lingenfelter

Eight Years On: Early—and Continuing—Lessons from the Tuning Project
Daniel J. McInerney

Real-time Student Assessment: Prioritizing Enrolled Students’ Equitable Progress toward Achieving a High-Quality Degree
Peggy Maki

Academic and Student Affairs Sides of the House: Can We Have an Open Concept Learning Design?
Darby Roberts

Just Assessment. Nothing More. Nothing Less.
Wayne Jacobson

Design for a Transparent and Engaging Assessment Website
Frederick Burrack and Chris Urban

Improvement Matters
Peter Felten

Working Together to Define and Measure Learning in the Disciplines
Amanda Cook, Richard Arum, and Josipa Roksa

The Simplicity of Cycles
Mary Catharine Lennon

Helping Faculty Use Assessment Data to Provide More Equitable Learning Experiences
Mary-Ann Winkelmes

Ignorance is Not Bliss: Implementation Fidelity and Learning Improvement
Sara J. Finney and Kristen L. Smith

Student Learning Outcomes Alignment through Academic and Student Affairs Partnerships
Susan Platt and Sharlene Sayegh

The Transformation of Higher Education in America: Understanding the Changing Landscape
Michael Bassis

Learning-Oriented Assessment in Practice
David Carless

Moving Beyond Anarchy to Build a New Field
Hamish Coats

The Tools of Intentional Colleges and Universities: The DQP, ELOs, and Tuning
Paul L. Gaston, Trustees Professor, Kent State University

Addressing Assessment Fatigue by Keeping the Focus on Learning
George Kuh and Pat Hutchings, NILOA

Evidence of Student Learning: What Counts and What Matters for Improvement
Pat Hutchings, Jillian Kinzie, and George D. Kuh, NILOA

Using Evidence to Make a Difference
Stan Ikenberry and George Kuh, NILOA

Assessment - More than Numbers
Sheri Barrett

Challenges and Opportunities in Assessing the Capstone Experience in Australia
Nicolette Lee

Making Assessment Count
Maggie Bailey

Some Thoughts on Assessing Intercultural Competence
Darla K. Deardorff

Catalyst for Learning: ePortfolio-Based Outcomes Assessment
Laura M. Gambino and Bret Eynon

The Interstate Passport: A New Framework for Transfer
Peter Quigley, Patricia Shea, and Robert Turner

College Ratings: What Lessons Can We Learn from Other Sectors?
Nicholas Hillman

Guidelines to Consider in Being Strategic about Assessment
Larry A. Braskamp and Mark E. Engberg

An "Uncommon" View of the Common Core
Paul L. Gaston

Involving Undergraduates in Assessment: Documenting Student Engagement in Flipped Classrooms
Adriana Signorini & Robert Oschner

The Surprisingly Useful Practice of Meta-Assessment
Keston H. Fulcher & Megan Rodgers Good

Student Invovlement in Assessment: A 3-Way Win
Josie Welsh

Internships: Fertile Ground for Cultivating Integrative Learning
Alan W. Grose

What if the VSA Morphed into the VST?
George Kuh

Where is Culture in Higher Education Assessment and Evaluation?
Nora Gannon-Slater, Stafford Hood, and Thomas Schwandt

Embedded Assessment and Evidence-Based Curriculum Mapping: The Promise of Learning Analytics
Jane M. Souza

The DQP and the Creation of the Transformative Education Program at St. Augustine University
St. Augustine University

Why Student Learning Outcomes Assessment is Key to the Future of MOOCs

Wallace Boston & Jennifer Stephens

Measuring Success in Internationalization: What are Students Learning?
Madeleine F. Green

Demonstrating How Career Services Contribute to Student Learning
Julia Panke Makela & Gail S. Rooney

The Culture Change Imperative for Learning Assessment
Richard H. Hersh & Richard P. Keeling

Comments on the Commentaries about "Seven Red Herrings"
Roger Benjamin

Ethics and Assessment: When the Test is Life Itself
Edward L. Queen

Discussing the Data, Making Meaning of the Results
Anne Goodsell Love

Faculty Concerns About Student Learning Outcomes Assessment
Janet Fontenot

What to Consider When Selecting an Assessment Management System
R. Stephen RiCharde

AAHE Principles of Good Practice: Aging Nicely A Letter from Pat Hutchings, Peter Ewell, and Trudy Banta

The State of Assessment of Learning Outcomes Eduardo M. Ochoa

What is Satisfactory Performance? Measuring Students and Measuring Programs with Rubrics
Patricia DeWitt

Being Confident about Results from Rubrics Thomas P. Judd, Charles Secolsky & Clayton Allen

What Assessment Personnel Need to Know About IRBs
Curtis R. Naser

How Assessment and Institutional Research Staff Can Help Faculty with Student Learning Outcomes Assessment
Laura Blasi

Why Assess Student Learning? What the Measuring Stick Series Revealed
Gloria F. Shenoy

Putting Myself to the Test
Ama Nyamekye

From Uniformity to Personalization: How to Get the Most Out of Assessment
Peter Stokes

Transparency Drives Learning at Rio Salado College
Vernon Smith

Navigating a Perfect Storm
Robert Connor

It is Time to Make our Academic Standards Clear
Paul E. Lingenfelter

In Search for Standard of Quality
Michael Bassis

Avoiding a Tragedy of the Commons in Postsecondary Education
Roger Benjamin