Universities should offer voluntary exit exams

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese days, it’s common to hear employers complain about the lack of skills that recent undergraduates have. They rant and rave that university students aren’t prepared for the real world, and some, like Harvey Weingarten, as reported by The Star, claim that universities should offer voluntary entrance and exit examinations in order to measure students’ basic reading, writing, and mathematical abilities. And while I strongly disliked provincial exams in high school, I firmly stand behind these entrance and exit examinations.

The same Star article reports that executives in 20 recent employer surveys feel recent graduates lack the simplest of skills.

It’s not so much that an undergraduate degree has lost value, it’s that there is now a common belief that an undergraduate degree must directly relate to one’s job or profession — that is, that there is a smooth transition between graduating and employment. It’s this prevailing belief that your major determines exactly where your workforce values lie.

One often hears, “well, what does that degree get you?” And it often results in an egotistical debate on the value of an undergraduate degree in fields where one’s major is perceived to land them a job in that specific field after graduation. But if there were entrance and exit examinations which tested a university level of reading, writing, and mathematical ability, then your major in history may just be a bonus to an employer.

If an exit exam can alleviate my employer’s skepticism about my ability, I would be glad to take it.

The fact is that there are certain skills that are essential in today’s economy, and while my knowledge of some abstract part of the brain may be useful at some point in time, basic skills in reading, writing, and math are more employable. If an exit exam can alleviate an employer’s skepticism about my ability, then I would be glad to take it, and so should you.

Moreover, I believe that in order to successfully pass these entrance and exit examinations, all university students should have to take mandatory courses in math, science, English, business, and computer science their first year. While this would undoubtedly be met with sharp criticism by students, the benefits would be two-fold.

Not only would you become more well-rounded and develop basic marketable skills, but a university degree would become far more valuable to employers. Knowing that all universities require that students have basic skills in reading, writing, math, and computers, I believe this would make them more comfortable hiring post-secondary graduates.

Your undergraduate degree definitely exposes you to things you would never have thought of if you had simply been working in some job or profession. And because there’s still value in an undergraduate degree, I believe that the system just needs a little fine tuning to make employers more confident in their future employees’ abilities. If this means offering entrance and exit examinations, then so be it. Employers would have a better chance at hiring skilled workers, and students would get an experience far beyond the day-to-day grind.



  1. If employers want to test skills, they can develop and perform their own skills assessment (and many already do). If you ask specifically what skills these employers want, you’ll find they often want people trained on the exact software and business processes they use. Downloading the cost of some arbitrary skills assessment onto the University and public education is just another way for employers to outsource their responsibility for training and professional development. Continuing this trend of outsourcing will lead University courses towards purely technical training as specified by large employers – instead of being institutions of higher learning – and defeat the whole purpose of a University.

    If University graduates aren’t able to write, communicate and use a computer then the problem is not an entrance or exit exam, the problem is that students aren’t learning during their degrees. If students aren’t learning, testing them more often will only increase stress while leading to no substantial improvement. While I’m suspicious that a lack of learning exists, such a lack may be a symptom of large class sizes, cuts in education support like TAs and writing centres, increased academic dishonesty, etc. Having standardized exams addresses none of these.

    Employers want prepackaged graduates trained to exactly their specification. However, each employer has a different specification. The role of the University is to support people in developing a board background of knowledge so they can adapt to many different changes over the course of their lives. Serving the precise needs of individual employers is not in the public interest and shouldn’t be the focus of public education.