The public’s confidence in higher education has taken a considerable hit this year, thanks to students’ rocky ride through the pandemic. While some Americans may still find value in a degree, many do not believe it’s worth the cost or time. This perception has even trickled down to higher education’s next generation of incoming first-year students.
Despite the fuss, research conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities has found that most employers of all ages, genders and political denominations believe college prepares the workforce adequately and is worth the cost.
Specifically, 83% of employers are either “strongly” or “somewhat” confident that higher education prepares graduates to succeed in the workforce. Broken down by age, employers aged 50 and above were the least likely to strongly agree with this statement, while more than half of those aged 49 and below held college in high regard.
The agreement rates were similar when employers were asked if a degree was worth it despite the money and time needed to do so; 81% strongly believed it was. Four out of 10 employers of all ages strongly agreed here.
Traits employers thought helped college graduates possess a “well-rounded” education and succeed in the workforce included their hands-on application of ideas, encouragement to think for oneself and skill development.
However, industry professionals identified three very vital skills pertinent to the job that graduates didn’t possess at a foundational level. Despite oral communication, adaptability and flexibility and critical thinking being employers’ three most highly rated skills needed for the job, their ranking of students’ proficiency tanked. Unsurprisingly, these are the three skills employers want to see colleges and universities put more emphasis on.
While market professionals identified major skill gaps among graduates, more than 80% “strongly” or “somewhat” believe they are prepared to succeed in entry-level positions and advance in the company.
Employers weighing in on emerging trends
Two growing themes in higher education in 2023 were the rise of micro-credentials and the controversial topic of diversity, education and inclusion. AAC&U asked employers a few questions about them.
When it comes to micro-credentials, employers are exhibiting a high level of buy-in. They would prefer a high school student with a micro-credential over a college graduate who doesn’t have one. However, their most preferred candidates were those with a micro-credential and a college degree. Employers of all ages agreed that college graduates with a micro-credential make them “much stronger” candidates.
On the other hand, less than 40% of respondents found e-portfolios and transcripts very useful.
As for one of higher education’s most heated discussions this year, employers are actively interested in students exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, for they believe it weighs heavily on their workforce preparedness. While this may be a win for advocates of diverse perspectives, don’t hold your breath; employers were split on whether the government should play a role in determining what is taught at colleges and universities.