Does college prepare you for a lifetime of success?
Employers see value in higher education, but believe graduates are not qualified for advancement or promotion, a recent report has found. Source: AFP/Dia Dipasupil

The meaning of career success is up to interpretation. We can define it by the figures on our paychecks, and many influential rankings do. We can assess it by how productive we are, or by our levels of job satisfaction. We can construe it by how quickly we climb up the corporate ladder and into that corner office.

If your barometer of success is the latter, and you believe a university degree alone will get you there, you may have some re-thinking to do. A new report released last week by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) found that only a third of executives, and a quarter of hiring managers, believe graduates possess the skills and knowledge to advance or be promoted, Chronicle report.

They are twice as likely to believe graduates are prepared for entry-level positions and a strong majority still believe in the value of higher education. But when it comes to that promotion, they’re thinking twice on whether that college degree delivers the necessary skills.

“Among both audiences, majorities believe that colleges and universities need to make improvements to ensure that college graduates possess the skills and knowledge needed for workplace success at the entry level and especially for advancement,” the report wrote.

It’s a stark difference from what colleges and universities usually promise in their marketing brochures, ie. preparing students for career and life success.

AAC&U president Lynn Pasquerella told Inside Higher Ed: “When we talk about the liberal education, it’s often in terms of lifelong learning and preparing students not only for their first job, but for their last job.”

Hart Research Associates conducted the survey, on behalf of AAC&U, on two groups: around 500 business executives in the private sector and non-governmental groups, as well as 500 hiring managers.

How to mend the skills gap?

Both groups consider the following learning outcomes as the most important: oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, teamwork, written communication, and real-world application of knowledge and skills. There is great emphasis on skills and knowledge that cut across majors, and what many would argue are more likely to be gained from a liberal arts education.

Real-world industry experience and continued learning matters too. Internships or apprenticeships gives fresh graduates “an edge” over those without.

“93 percent of executives and 94 percent of hiring managers say that they would be more likely to hire a recent graduate who has held an internship or apprenticeship with a company or organization,” the report wrote. Similarly, job candidates with applied and project-based learning were viewed more favourably by both survey groups.

But only around one-third of executives and hiring managers believe these fresh graduates are “very well prepared” to apply their knowledge and skills to the real world.

Nearly four out of five (79 percent) of business executives and hiring managers report that their company provides professional development, with around half partnering with colleges and universities to offer service learning opportunities, internships, and/or apprenticeships.

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