Western Students Lack Effective Speaking Skills

Employers expect to hire college graduates who have the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the workplace. Western graduates fell short in critical categories, according to the 2000-2003 Employer Survey Report, which ranked graduates' overall performance in the workplace.

The report found that direct supervisors ranked Western graduates' verbal skills last among all other university's graduates surveyed in all job markets except technical jobs. While strong verbal skills are ranked as most important to employers, Western students ranked communication skills as the least important of the eight categories surveyed.

For this reason, the General Education Task Force presented a proposal at the Nov. 18 Academic Coordinating Commission meeting about ways to enhance students' speaking skills. "We really need to do more to prepare our students in all areas of communication," said Kris Bulcroft, vice provost for undergraduate education. "This includes writing, speaking and critical thinking."

Bulcroft said one option is to intertwine communication skills with pre-existing academic disciplines, which would let students incorporate communication skills in their major courses. The other option is to add more communication courses.

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In both options, a sophomore writing class would be added to the existing freshman English 101 course. Communication 101 no longer would be a general university requirement but an option for students, Bulcroft said.

"First off, if any student has a choice of a writing course or a public-speaking one, most students will pick the writing one," said Maya Tomlin, Associated Students vice-president for academic affairs. "But once most students take Comm. 101, they are glad they did."

Chair of the ACC Tom Downing said he agrees with Tomlin. If Western added communication skills into existing departments, it no longer would be a general requirement.

"Departments like math and computer science would be left in the cold," Downing said. "I am pretty sure that the professors in those majors would not eagerly include very many speaking-efficient lessons in their courses."

Downing said he will propose adding more speech classes. He said Western needs to make speaking efficiently a priority.

Downing said the ACC is making General University Requirement changes in every category, but no matter what the new changes will be, GURs will drop approximately 12 to 13 credits from what is presently required. The policy should be in place in 2005.

Although Western also ranked low in computer skills, Joseph Trimble, director of the Institutional Access Research and Testing office, said this has drastically changed in the past year.

"High schools are now preparing students with computer skills, making our front end of students that we receive every year more knowledgeable," Trimble said. "Computer skills are increasing rapidly due to programs like Blackboard, e-mail contacts and the fact that more computer labs are available to students."

Tess Alverson

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