ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — College students are far more likely to think they are ready to succeed in the workplace after graduation than are the employers they will turn to for work, according to the findings of two new national surveys released last week.
One, a poll of business and nonprofit leaders, gave recent graduates low grades on nearly all of the 17 learning outcomes explored in the survey, including those deemed most important for career success.
A separate survey found that students understand which learning outcomes are most important in today’s
economy, but tend to overstate their preparation for post-college employment.
“Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” summarizes selected findings of the two surveys conducted online in November and December by Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The AAC&U and Hart Research are based in Washington, D.C.
The survey of 613 students included 455 four-year college seniors – 304 at public schools, 151 at private institutions – and 158 community college students who plan to receive an associate degree or transfer to a four-year school within a year. In the survey of 400 employers, each with at least 25 employees, all reported that their new employees hold an associate or bachelor’s degree.
The students and employers agreed that a broad-based education resulting in skills and knowledge that cut across fields of study is the best preparation for success.
University of New Mexico Provost Chaouki Abdallah said he was not surprised to hear about the “discrepancy” or “mismatch” in the perceptions of the two groups. “Like other reports, this is saying that (employers) want new hires to have a college education with breadth, as well as depth,” he said.
UNM is constantly looking at learning outcomes and testing is geared for the long term, not just immediate concerns, Abdallah said. Unlike 15 or 20 years ago, when companies asked for specific skills, they now want broad-based knowledge. Hence, the university’s focus has to be set on student readiness.
“To that end, curricula have been revised, new courses instituted and older ones adapted to instill new qualities,” he said.
Of the 17 outcome areas addressed in the survey of employers, respondents said they most value written and oral communication, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings. More than 80 percent rated the five outcomes between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale.
“The majority of employers continue to say that possessing both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge and skills is important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success,” the report states in its overview. “Very few indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position is the best path for long-term success.”
Fully 91 percent of employers surveyed said “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than (a job candidate’s) undergraduate major.”
At the same time, 58 percent said improvements in college education are needed to prepare students for success in entry-level positions and an even larger number – more than two-thirds – said improvements are needed to prepare students for advancement and promotion in the workplace.
Only 25 percent of employers called recent graduates well prepared in critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem-solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. A similar number said graduates are well prepared in innovation and creativity.
Only about 30 percent said graduates are well prepared in the area of ethical judgment and decision-making, while 37 percent said graduates are well prepared in teamwork skills – the highest-rated learning outcome area.
Eighty-seven percent of employers said they would be more likely to hire a graduate who had completed a senior project in college and 60 percent said all students should be required to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation.