Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Summer 2019

Preparing Students for Careers after Graduation: The Value of Community-Academic Partnerships

Jacob Szeszulski, PhD; Student SIG

In the era of 200 character tweets and 10 second attention spans, university level teaching has met new challenges. It is no longer only the job of an educator to relay information to students, but it has become their job to captivate their students' attentions with practical, innovative teaching methodologies that prepare them for careers after graduation. Community-academic partnerships, offer a potential solution (e.g., service learning project, work integration learning, internships, and apprenticeships).

In 2018, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) conducted a survey of company executives and found that only 57% of executives consider college graduates prepared for an entry-level position at their companies, and only 34% believe college graduates have the necessary skills and knowledge to be promoted1. Both down 10% from only five years ago.2 These substantial reductions in students’ hiring potential signifying a growing concern from businesses, that college students are not adequately prepared for careers beyond graduation.3 Of the skills and attributes that business value most, employers report that graduates do not have global/intercultural competency (79.3%), leadership skills (77%), oral and written communication skills (58.4%), professionalism/work ethic (57.5%), and critical thinking and problem solving skills (44.2%), revealing important discrepancies between what employers are looking for and what university educators teach.4 During the last presidential keynote, at SBM’s most recent annual meeting, all types of SBM members (e.g., university professors, industry leaders, graduate and undergraduate students) voiced their support for finding better methods to prepare students for careers outside of academia. Results from the AACU report suggest that community-academic partnerships, in the form of internships/apprenticeships (94%) and community projects (83%) may be that opportunity.1

  1. Community-academic partnerships improve student’s cultural competency,5 leadership and communication skills, and work ethic. When working in communities, students have the opportunity to interact with practitioners and community members whose viewpoints and lived experiences may be substantially different from their own. Community organizations require students to show up on time, listening to and respect others opinions, and develop and receive feedback on their ideas. Although many of these processes already occur in the classroom, community organizations interact with culturally and socioeconomically diverse populations, which provides a broad range of perspectives that cannot be reproduced in a classroom setting. Additionally, community-based organizations evaluate ideas based on feasibility and impact, while university classrooms often evaluate on the quality and the content of the work. Many times an exciting academic idea, may have significant barriers for real world application. By participating in community-academic partnerships, students gain firsthand experience on how real world barriers influence the ideas they are developing through their coursework.
  2. Community-academic partnerships prepare students for careers outside academia. University classes teach new knowledge, but many times they don’t teach application of knowledge. Community organizations offer tangible problems, which require multifaceted solutions that can’t be reproduced in a classroom. When working in a community, there is a degree of uncertainty that comes from working with real people and problems, which teaches students how to apply skills as situations arise. Community partnerships also allow students to learn from individuals who have significant experience applying these skills, while gaining professional contacts that could lead to careers after graduation.
  3. Community-academic partnerships foster trust between universities and the surrounding community. Many universities already promote community-academic partnerships in their mission statement, but formation of these partnerships require frequent and extended dialogue between the university and community organizations. By engaging in this dialog, universities learn about the local needs within the community and each entity benefits through the collaborations that they build together. Benefits to the university could take the form of student-engagement projects, educational seminars, research studies, or through other avenues that offer application and translation of knowledge to real world settings. Benefits to the community come through a greater understanding of the importance of research, the provision of resources to organizations (e.g., free skilled labor, program assessment, needs assessment, health fairs), and by teaching community members how to protect the communities they work in (e.g., requirement of community-based participatory research processes).6 Each of these projects aids in the trust building process, which ultimately improves the community perception of the value that universities have to offer.

In a time where the utility of education has come into question3 and knowledge has become readily accessible, universities must do more than provide new knowledge. If universities wish to remain competitive in preparing individuals for careers, then universities must provide opportunities for students to grow, gain experiences, and create connections that will foster careers after graduation. Community-academic partnerships offer this opportunity.



  1. Hart Research Associates. (2018). Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work. (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018). Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2018EmployerResearchReport.pdf.
  2. Hart Research Associates. (2015). IT TAKES MORE THAN A MAJOR: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018). Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf
  3. Michael Staton. (2015). When a Fancy Degree Scares Employers Away. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/01/when-a-fancy-degree-scares-employers-away
  4. Jeremy Bauer-Wolf. (2018). Overconfident Students, Dubious Employers. Inside Higher ED. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/23/study-students-believe-they-are-prepared-workplace-employers-disagree.
  5. Schutte, T., Tichelaar, J., Dekker, R. S., van Agtmael, M. A., de Vries, T. P., & Richir, M. C. (2015). Learning in studentā€run clinics: A systematic review. Medical education, 49(3), 249-263.
  6. Caldwell, W. B., Reyes, A. G., Rowe, Z., Weinert, J., & Israel, B. A. (2015). Community partner perspectives on benefits, challenges, facilitating factors, and lessons learned from community-based participatory research partnerships in Detroit. Progress in community health partnerships: research, education, and action, 9(2), 299-311.