College 2025

Adaptability, Essential Skills, Lifelong Learning & Partnerships

Essential Skills

Workforce, Talent Development, Economic Development, Critical Thinking, Integration

USG commits to fostering demonstrated competencies that include essential skills for 21st-century work.

The University System will prepare students with skills that endure over time and cross the boundaries of traditional discipline-based knowledge. Competencies include teamwork, communication, critical thinking, global perspectives and project management, all of which will prepare students to become productive members of society. The System will also work with strategic partners to identify necessary skills and needs in order to prepare students who are workforce ready, responsible citizens and lifelong learners.

It is clear that there are new aspects of knowledge and skills that are necessary parts of being an educated person in the 21st century. Part of the work that must be undertaken by the USG will be to continually review and revisit the core aspects of the system degree curricula to ensure that those central aspects meet the essential learning needs of the world around us. Indeed, the USG and its constituent universities will need a continued partnership with community businesses and state and national industry and others to ensure that graduates are prepared with relative skills seen as essential.

Carnevale and Smith (2013), writing for the Center of Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, state that the new knowledge-based economy requires a specific set of knowledge and skills that employers desire for employees to function well into the future. These skills include the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics, but also include knowing how to learn; communication skills including listening and oral communication; adaptability including problem solving and creative thinking; group effectiveness including interpersonal skills, negotiation and the ability to work in teams; organizational effectiveness and leadership; personal management including self -esteem and goal setting; and resilience (Carnevale & Smith, 2013).

Acquiring and Defining Skills

USG institutions must be vigilant in assuring that graduates from their programs are attaining these skills deemed important by business and industry. Whether it be through curricular reformation or development of extensive rubrics which assess the presence of these skills throughout an existing curriculum, our institutions must with vigilance pursue this goal. This may mean reaching out to local and regional corporate and government partners who are willing to assist with development of these skills in the classroom. It may also mean a reworking of pedagogical approaches to allow for more skill development rather than simply knowledge transfer in coursework.

The nature of work is changing and will continue to change in the near future (Dockweiler, 2018; Jackson, February 16, 2017; Gorsht, 2014; Wells, 2016). In fact, in a recent interview, businessman and entrepreneur Mark Cuban expressed concern that automation of manufacturing and much of industry is going to require a totally different type of individual for the workforce in the future. Cuban said “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data. And so having someone who is more of a freer thinker.” (Abby Jackson, Business Insider interview, Feb. 17, 2017).

David Autor argues that the increasing use of technology will have a polarizing effect on the labor market. Traditional middle-skills jobs will increasingly become automated. Jobs that require high-levels of situational adaptability, personal interactions and complex motor skills applied creatively will not be replaced by machines. Similarly, jobs that require complex problem-solving, analysis and design skills will be filled by people who are able to employ technology in highly creative and productive ways. Although today’s middle-skills jobs may be replaced by automated solutions, many of these jobs will be replaced by jobs in which humans and machines collaborate (Autor 2014, Schmidt, Resnick, & Ito, 2016). Either way, it is the ability to combine knowledge and skill in a creative manner in an adapting environment that is key. The curricula of future higher education will need to focus more fully on ways in which discipline knowledge can be creatively applied in concert with evolving technology tools.


For the most part, today’s current higher education educates students to complete tasks as individuals. If they are required to work as part of a group, it is a group of other students from that same discipline area or subject area. Increasingly this is not the way that modern industry works — there the advantages of cognitive diversity to generate and continuously improve solutions to complex problems will become more and more apparent (Scott Page, 2017). Once again, an essential property of future higher education will be to enable graduates to bring the lens of their discipline and training to a group of voices, and collaborate effectively as part of a diverse team.


In addition to acquiring these skills, our institutions must provide students with the language to talk with employers about skills they have acquired – to take what they have been taught in the classroom and translate it to the workplace. This ability will bridge the communication gap that may be responsible for the disconnect between business and university on skill development (Craig, 2017). Success in this area will require that colleges and universities spend a greater investment in their career planning and advising units.

A 2014 survey conducted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that 47 percent of first-year students wanted career advice immediately upon their entrance into the college and university (Normyle,, April 15, 2014). By 2018, this had grown to 67 percent of all entering first-year students (Normyle,, March 22, 2018). This signals an increasing need for college-based career planning and advising, as well as an opportunity to create links between post-secondary and k-12 education. To meet the future needs of students in addition to providing robust academic counseling, colleges and universities must also ensure that students have access to career counseling. This level of counseling, in addition to providing advice to students regarding their generalized aptitude and talent for certain career areas, must also provide students with the essential skills needed to apply for a career, such as the development of a resume, access to mock interviews and information about electronic data bases for their career portfolio.

Rethinking Curriculum and Structure

Future curricular innovations and classroom changes must provide opportunities for students to acquire and practice these essential skills. Pedagogical changes like the flipped classroom and better use of technology will allow students to practice and note these skills. In addition, group and team-based projects and enhanced case studies utilizing real corporate and community-based problems will allow students to apply and practice skills applied. Finally, college and university students will need greater involvement in high-impact experiences such as undergraduate research opportunities; leadership experiences; cooperative work assignments, internships and mentorships with local and regional businesses and industries; and study away and abroad opportunities in order to further embed these skills.

The future will see colleges and universities develop ways to verify that students are gaining these essential skills. While not a new concept, many universities are developing alternative transcripts and/or badges as a means to document and provide proof of skills acquisitions. Still others are using electronic portfolios as a means to capture and authenticate skills. These provide an opportunity for students to curate an enduring record of project or classroom artifacts that demonstrate competencies to potential reviewers of the portfolio.

There has been significant recent work to study how the structure of higher education curricula influences student learning and their overall degree success. By studying the course transcripts of graduates across the System, we have been able to establish which courses in the System’s course-curricular structure have a disproportionately sized role in the overall learning structure — successful learning in these classes disproportionately leads to further success, and lack of success in these classes leads to failures elsewhere.

More recent work has suggested that deepened student learning in these essential courses not only further enhances success in that particular class, but success over all across a degree program. Currently, this work has been confined to course-level analysis, but we envision the future opening the possibility of a more granular approach. Mapping the academic genome that establishes the basic learning objects of the System’s core curriculum together with the semantic connections between would allow a deep analysis of those elements of learning that are essential to the improved understanding of later concepts as well as overall success. This mapping will provide the basic building blocks for competency-based education and personalized learning analytics platforms. But, just as the public availability of Google-map data has led to a plethora of unanticipated uses such as Zillow and Yelp, and the mapping of the human genome has allowed medical approaches that are gene-specific , so, too, we anticipate the mapping of the System academic genome to allow future learning innovation.

Recommendations—Essential Skills

USG will achieve this by:

  • Engaging in an ongoing dialogue with community businesses, state and national industry at both the system and institutional level to connect real-world expectations with academic practice.
  • Undertaking curricular innovation and reform to ensure these real-world expectations are integrated across all programs of study.

  • Ensuring that students are equipped with the ability to work within their discipline in concert with technology and in diverse multi-disciplinary teams.
  • Ensuring that students are taught to employ the viewpoint of their disciplinary training in innovative and creative ways.
  • Creating a comprehensive record of student learning that accurately and completely documents student mastery and learning.
  • Mapping and analyzing the academic genome of the system core curriculum.

Case Studies

  • AACRAO – NASPA: Comprehensive Student Record Project
    A joint project, conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and NASPA: Association of Student Personnel and funded by the Lumina Foundation, allowed 12 institutions to be involved in the creation of the Comprehensive Student Record Project. This project created an exchange of student records across these campuses in an effort to demonstrate that “a college education is more than that chronological enrollment summary.” An attempt to try to codify students’ co-curricular activities, this project produced several models, some based upon unique aspects of each institution, which might provide templates for other institutions wishing to verify student co-curricular learning.

  • University System of Georgia: Playbook Design
    The Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative Report (2014) brought to the forefront a need in Georgia to increase the capacity of career pathways and thus meet the demand fueled by economic development in the fields of financial technology, information technology, aerospace, film, supply chain management, mechatronics, cybersecurity and health informatics. The University System of Georgia (USG) developed a methodology to systematically analyze talent demand and subsequently align systemwide talent development capacity. The technique is implemented by the System in collaboration with employers’ talent managers to address three critical areas: Employer Value Proposition (discover and validate talent demand to create opportunities employer value most); Learner Value Proposition (discover and validate the pains to be resolved and gains to be realized for our constituents); and Institution Value Proposition (align institutional strategies and priorities to grow capacity). In collaboration with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Georgia Centers for Innovation, chambers of commerce, USG institutions and multiple employers, the initiative has resulted in a Talent Development Playbook. The playbook contains action-oriented recommendations and initiatives for talent development. USG institutions use the playbook to make informed decisions about employer and learner-valued curriculum and credentials. The initiative also includes components to gain talent development insights as well as how to create a framework to prioritize programs and skillsets. Institutions use the framework to revise existing or create new programs, degrees and innovation-driven research.

  • University of Georgia: High Impact Practice
    All UGA students are required to participate in at least one experiential learning activity while on campus. Experiential learning activities include creative endeavors, study abroad and field schools, internship and leadership opportunities, faculty-mentored research and service-learning. These activities are designed to enhance learning, prepare the student for the world beyond the classroom and encourage persistence to graduation.

  • Georgia College: GC Journeys
    Georgia College is ensuring that students experience essential skills through the GC Journeys program, which requires students to participate in five transformative experiences during their time at the college. Students participate in a seminar-style first-year course designed by the university, which introduces them to the concept of the liberal arts and provides practical competencies and helps transition to college elements. Then, students may pick two additional transformative experiences of their own — study abroad, community-based engaged learning, intensive leadership programs, mentored undergraduate research or internships. Students will also be required as one of their transformative experiences to participate in the career milestone project which spans the full undergraduate experience. In this program, students are exposed to career exploration and planning and participate in a variety of practical career preparation projects such as resume preparation and mock interviews. Finally, a senior capstone serves as the culminating experience and is designed to demonstrate preparedness for the workforce or graduate school.