Should Colleges Give Grades For Emotional Intelligence?

Asheville-Buncombe TCC plans to give grades on soft skills like getting along with others and being on time.

When we talk about educating our way out of the skills gap, the discussion tends to focus on how we funnel more students into science or technology majors or helping current workers gain in-demand skills. But companies aren't just looking for employees with specific content knowledge and skills. They want folks with "soft skills"—emotional intelligence and social graces—too. So if we need to educate and train the next generation to be ready for the 21st century workforce, should colleges be emphasizing and giving grades on those too?

That's the plan at North Carolina's Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. According to Inside Higher Ed, the school intends to give "workplace readiness certificates" to students who demonstrate mastery of soft skills.

Grading soft skills isn't exactly new in education—most elementary school report cards have long given marks for them. But by the time kids hit middle and high school, formal grades on "cooperates well in a group situation" or "resolves conflicts appropriately" aren't as common. And, in a college setting when "demonstrates appropriate social interaction with peers," is still needed, anything other than a pure academic content-based grade is nonexistent.

Since those kinds of skills can feel pretty fuzzy—making good use of time is a little subjective—Asheville-Buncombe's faculty will use a rubric to evaluate students on eight workplace expectations, "including personal responsibility, interdependence, and emotional intelligence." These skills will "count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines."

The need for a continuous emphasis on soft skills is certainly there. According to a 2012 Manpower survey, 20 percent of employers cited a lack of "soft skills"—like knowing how to show up on time or work well with others—as a reason they were unable to find suitable candidates for position.

Teaching soft skills doesn't just make potential employees more pleasant to be around. Business computer technologies instructor Jean B. Finley says teaching soft skills also improves the overall quality of a student's academic work. That's because, says Finley, her "students are able to prioritize better." And, since her supervisor on campus expects her to be a problem solver, Finley says, "that’s what I expect of my students."

Of course, what really matters is not just grading students on these soft skills but doing what Finley's doing: ensuring that emotional intelligence traits and habits are explicitly taught—and that they're taught continuously throughout a student's formal schooling experience. Imagine the difference in our classrooms, public spaces, and workplaces if that happened.

Students learning in lecture hall image via Shutterstock

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