A new report released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) reveals that employers have a generally positive view of America’s higher education system and the value of a college degree.
Titled “Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work,” the report is part of the AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, which champions the importance of intellectual as well as practical skills acquisition in higher education. The report also comes at a time when a broad public debate over the merits of a liberal arts education is taking place as well as a growing number of Americans is expressing a lack of confidence in U.S. higher education.
In compiling the report, AAC&U commissioned Hart Research Associates to survey approximately 1,000 business executives and managers whose responsibilities include recruiting and hiring new employees. Eighty percent of executives and 75 percent of hiring managers surveyed agreed that a college degree is “very important” or “absolutely essential” for new hires to succeed in the workplace. In addition, 63 percent of respondents said they have “quite a lot or a great deal” of confidence in American colleges and universities. By contrast, a January 2018 Gallup Poll found that only 45 percent of U.S. adults reported having strong confidence in these institutions.
The AAC&U report also shows that employers tend to place a high value on skills that are often acquired through studying the liberal arts. Those they desired the most in entry-level employees include oral and written communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, and the ability to work effectively in teams. Furthermore, the majority of respondents expressed a belief in the importance of real-world learning experiences, such as internships and long-term projects, in preparing college students for the workplace.
The survey also reveals areas in which employers think higher education is lacking. Only 47 percent of managers and 40 percent of executives expressed a belief that students are properly trained in oral communication skills, for example. Just over one-third of executives believe that today’s college students possess the skills to move up the corporate ladder. And only 33 percentsaid that recent graduates are effective at applying their knowledge and abilities to real-world problems.
These findings come at a time when public opinion of colleges and universities has been the focus of a sharp partisan divide. A 2017 annual survey by the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of Republicans considered colleges to have a negative effect on American society, while 72 percent of Democrats viewed colleges positively. Furthermore, growing criticism regarding the practicality of liberal arts education and the employability of graduates from those disciplines has led an increasing number of schools to replace humanities and liberal arts programs with specialized degree options.
The AAC&U is hopeful that the new findings, as well as other research completed as part of the LEAP initiative, will demonstrate to colleges the importance of liberal arts education as well as prove to the general public the value of a postsecondary degree.