Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work

Posted by Association of American Colleges and Universities on September 3, 2018

Employers Express Confidence in Colleges and Universities, Endorse Applied and Project-Based Learning as the Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success

National Surveys Show Broad Satisfaction for Students’ Preparation for Success in the Global Economy and the Importance of Learning Outcomes That Cut Across Majors

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recently released a report by Hart Research Associates, “Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work.” The report summarizes selected findings from two parallel national surveys—one of business executives and one of hiring managers. On August 28, AAC&U delivered a webinar describing the report results and their implications for higher education. Consistent with findings from six earlier surveys commissioned by AAC&U as part of its ongoing Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, employers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning and cross-cutting skills as the best preparation for long-term career success.

The college learning outcomes that both business executives and hiring managers rate as most important include oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, working effectively in teams, working independently, self-motivation, written communication, and real-world application of skills and knowledge.

“Employers are clear on the value of college and the importance of advancing excellence and student success in higher education,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “We look forward to working together with institutions and employers to achieve our shared objectives around advancing liberal education, quality, and equity in service to democracy.”

National Survey of Business Executives and Hiring Managers: Key Findings

Business executives and hiring managers express a higher degree of confidence in colleges and universities than does the American public. Among both executives and hiring managers, 63 percent express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in colleges and universities—a notably higher proportion than among the general public. In a January 2018 Gallup poll, 45 percent of adults nationwide expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in colleges and universities.

Employers agree on the value of college: 82 percent of business executives and 75 percent of hiring managers agree on the importance of college completion. When asked if a college degree is worth the time and money involved, 88 percent of business executives and 85 percent of hiring managers said it is “worth it.”

Employers indicate broad satisfaction (71 percent of business executives and 74 percent of hiring managers) with recent graduates’ ability to apply the skills and knowledge they learned in college in the workplace. However, while nearly 60 percent of business executives and hiring managers believe that most recent graduates have the skills and knowledge to succeed in entry-level company positions, only half as many (34% of business executives and 25% of hiring managers) believe that graduates are similarly prepared to advance beyond the entry level.

When hiring recent college graduates, employers place a high priority on demonstrated proficiency in a variety of skills that cut across majors. Of 15 outcomes tested, ability to effectively communicate orally, critical thinking/analytical reasoning, ethical judgment and decision-making, and ability to work effectively in teams are among the most highly valued by employers. More than 8 in 10 employers give these outcomes a rating between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale.

Employers indicate that participation in applied and project-based learning experiences gives recent college graduates an edge. Among business executives surveyed, 93 percent would be much more likely to hire a graduate who had an internship or apprenticeship with a company or organization—and 94 percent of hiring managers agree regarding the value of internships and apprenticeships.

Download the full report and executive summary here: https://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research

For printed copies of the report, email Carrie Johnson (johnson@aacu.org).

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