Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success

National Surveys of Business and Nonprofit Leaders and Current College Students

The report summarizes selected findings from two different national surveys—one of business and nonprofit leaders and another of current college students.  Consistent with findings from 5 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.

However, employers also give students very low grades on nearly all of the 17 learning outcomes explored in the study, including those deemed most important for career success.  The separate survey of students conducted online in November and December 2014 shows that students understand what learning outcomes are most important in today’s economy, but they judge themselves to be far better prepared for post-college success than do employers.  Students and employers do agree on what are the five most important outcomes of college.

Connecting College Learning and Career Success

Employers prioritize liberal and applied learning for all college students.

Nearly all employers (91 percent) agree that for career success, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”*

Nearly all employers (96 percent) agree that “all college students should have experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.”

More than three-quarters (78 percent) agree that “all college students should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies and countries outside the United States.”

Employers endorse broad learning as essential to long-term career success.

  • When hiring recent graduates, employers place the greatest priority on a demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across majors. Of 17 outcome areas tested, written and oral communication, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings are the most highly valued by employers.*
  • Confirming findings from four previous national surveys extending back to 2006, employers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning and cross-cutting skills as the best preparation for long-term career success. When asked in the latest survey, only 15 percent chose fieldspecific learning alone as the best preparation for long-term success.*

Employers strongly endorse an emphasis on applied learning and view student work on applied learning projects as valuable preparation for work. Students agree that applied learning projects are valuable.

  • 73 percent think that requiring college students to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation would improve the quality of their preparation for careers.*
  • 60 percent think that all students should be expected to complete a significant applied learning project before graduating.*
  • 87 percent of employers agree that they are somewhat or much more likely to consider a graduate as a job candidate if she or he has completed a senior project.*
  • 89 percent of students agree that doing an applied learning project would increase their likelihood of being hired.*

Source: *Hart Research Associates. Forthcoming. Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Source: *Hart Research Associates. 2015. Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.