What do Employers Want from College Students?

May 05

What do Employers Want from College Students?

A study from an interesting article on CollegeParents.org suggesting that colleges/universities are not preparing students for the workforce. Employers want students with an liberal education.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities defines a “liberal education” in the following way:

Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

This is clearly a tall order, but one which employers recognize and endorse. It is not an education which is theoretical and impractical, but directly applicable to students’ lives.

A national survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in 2010 by Hart Research Associates, asked 302 executives of companies with more than 25 employees what they believed were important learning outcomes or goals for student graduates. The results indicated that employers want more emphasis on a broad range of skills as well as in depth knowledge of a specific area. They also placed great importance on students’ ability to apply their knowledge to the real world and to conduct research and evidence based analyses. What follows are a few of the findings of that study. They indicate that colleges are already doing many things well, but that employers see room for improvement as colleges prepare the employees of the future.

  • 25% of respondents feel that colleges and universities are doing a good job of preparing graduates for the workplace.
  • 90% are asking employees to take on more responsibilities and use broader skills than in the past.
  • 84% believe that it would be helpful to require students to complete some type of senior project.
  • 81% see importance in students’ research skills and ability to analyze evidence.
  • 89% look for the ability to communicate effectively – orally and in writing.
  • 81% would like to see increased focus on critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills.
  • 79% endorse increased emphasis on real-world experience through internships or other external experiences
  • 75% emphasize ethical decisions and their connections to choices and actions
  • 71% see the need for teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with diverse groups
  • 70% recognize innovation and creativity
  • 63% see the need for the ability to work with numbers and understand statistics.
  • 52% would like to see more emphasis on civic knowledge, civic participation, and community engagement.

Clearly, employers see the need for some improvement in colleges’ preparation of students for the workplace. Most colleges are continually working to update and improve their approaches to the development of these skills – often through innovative programs across the curriculum. However, students themselves can consider their own paths and individual emphasis on these important, broad skills. The conversations that you, as a college parent, have with your student about his education – and the workplace – can help your student explore these vital connections that lead to that important “liberal education.”

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