Q: My daughter graduates from college in May. Her adviser suggests she take an exit test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus. He says it will help her get a job. I thought that's what a four-year diploma was for. What is this test and why should she take it?
A: The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+) was developed by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), which, according to its website, focuses "on providing educational assessment services to educational institutions."
Some call the CLA+ a test of "21st-century workforce skills."
It's relatively new and gaining traction as an objective, benchmarked report card that measures intellectual growth in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication -- areas many companies view as more important for professional success than subject-area knowledge.
The CLA+ is open to any student and costs $35 (though many colleges waive the fee). It's given during the spring of senior year.
Your daughter has nothing to lose by taking it. With so many recent grads living jobless at home, she should use every tool available to present herself to prospective employers. (And it will help you learn whether all those tuition checks were worth it!)
Potential employers use the test to determine whether students' abilities match their college credentials and GPAs. Some colleges use the tests to grade themselves -- a key thrust of the Obama administration's push for higher education accountability.
Recently, CAE analyzed CLA+ scores of 32,000 recent U.S. college graduates and that found 4 in 10 lacked the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work.
Jessalynn James, a program manager at CAE, says many students begin "college at such a low level in these skills that they may still not be proficient at the point of graduation."
Richard Arum is a New York University sociologist and co-author with Josipa Roksa of "Aspiring Adults Adrift" (University of Chicago Press, 2014). He says parents, colleges and students share the blame for this "failure to launch."
Arum believes that parents must start early to show kids the relationship between discipline, learning and success later in life. When they begin thinking about college, orient them so "that they understand that college is a time when one needs to invest in rigorous academic coursework" -- that the social aspects are a complement, not the main attraction.
When looking at a college, Arum says parents should ask tough questions. Go beyond the recruitment brochures and sales presentations at a visit. Ask for evidence of outcomes. What are student scores on tests of critical thinking such as the CLA+? How many recent graduates have jobs, and what type? How effective is the college's career office? What kinds of internships and services such as practice interviews does it provide?
M.J. "Chip" Block, a retired business leader who mentors students in Palm Beach County, Florida, says, "A few can construct a cohesive argument, think logically and write a clear explanation of their ideas. But many don't have the analytical and organizational skills to show potential employers they can excel in a job. The truth is that these key skills are not just essential for one's career -- they are critical if you're going to be an informed, effective citizen and productive member of a community."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)