President Quillen Talks Bridging the Gap Between Students and Employers During Chronicle of Higher Ed Forum

Student studying by art sculpture

Employers want the broad, transferable skills that liberal arts colleges develop, but struggle to isolate them in the short and stilted hiring process.

Students and their schools have to draw the solid line between education and career success, Davidson President Carol Quillen said to an audience of nearly 1,000 higher-ed leaders.

“How do you demonstrate outcomes? It’s not a grade,” Quillen said. “It’s on us—colleges and universities—to translate their experience to employers.”

Quillen appeared on The Soft Skills Gap, a virtual forum hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Adobe, the software company known best for its flagship Photoshop and Illustrator programs. The forum aimed to foster dialogue on the challenges and opportunities for higher ed in the 21st-century workplace.

Quillen told Jeff Selingo, bestselling author on higher education, that bridging the gap between students and employers begins with understanding and articulating what the students have learned.

“If you perform original research or produce a documentary in a history class, the creativity it took to do that will make you a better problem solver,” Quillen said. “I think it’s helping people connect the dots for employers rather than dramatically changing what we’re doing.”

Students at small liberal arts colleges develop both technical skills and human skills, like empathy, creativity and persistence.

“And it’s those capacities that translate into the soft skills that employers uniformly seek out,” Quillen said. “You get people who can navigate the unfamiliar, who can take initiative, who can work in a team, communicate among diverse audiences.”

Those skills tie directly into Davidson’s mission.

“We expect our educational experience to prepare students for rich, meaningful lives,” she said. “Like at many schools, you’re not here only for yourself. You’re here to equip yourself to have an impact on the world that enriches the lives of other people.”


  • May 28, 2020