Students say they're ready for the workforce. Employers disagree.

Recent grads need better communication, critical thinking skills

College students are much more confident in their workplace preparedness than employers say they should be, according to a survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU).

The organization queried students and employers on similar topics regarding job preparation and made the results public on Tuesday ahead of its annual meeting this week.

The research also revealed a mismatch between employers and government officials on key skills. As with other surveys by AACU, it demonstrated employers are more concerned with teamwork and communication skills than with academic majors—which government officials have focused on lately.

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To find the results, Hart Research Associates surveyed 613 students at public and private two- and four-year institutions and 400 respondents from organizations that employ at least 25 people and report at least one-quarter of recent hires hold an associate or bachelor's degree.

The report is the fifth of its kind but the first to include a companion student survey.

The survey found students think of themselves as prepared in ways employers do not. Students are more than twice as likely to rank themselves as well prepared in critical thinking, creativity, and oral and written communication than employers.

The closest the two groups come to agreeing with each other is "staying current on technologies." Thirty-seven percent of employers and 46% of students reported students as well-prepared.

Just 15% of employers ranked specific skills as more important than a "range of knowledge," while 60% say they are equally necessary and 25% prefer the broad range.

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Significant majorities of employers "somewhat" or "strongly" agree with multiple statements in support of general education, such as "All college students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different than their own."

A disconnect

Higher education doubles as a job-training system, says Anthony Carnevale, director at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. But schools do not know how to teach skills such as analytical learning that employers want to see from recent graduates.

Many students, says Andrew Kelley, director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, view college as "formulaic and transactional," viewing A's as a signal they are prepared for the world.

To better prepare students, colleges should guide them through internships and community-based learning, says Carol Geary Schneider, AACU's president (Fabris, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/20; Jaschik, Inside Higher Education, 1/20).

The takeaway: Employers and students do not agree that the latter group is prepared for the workforce, and employers stress the need for a general education instead of just job-specific training.

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