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Business leaders, Millennials Agree on Worth of Sheepskin

There appears to be at least one thing new college graduates and established business leaders agree on these days: A college education is worth less and less in the job marketplace. Frustrated CEOs say colleges should do more to prepare students saying that merely having a degree doesn’t necessarily prepare them for the workforce.

The Millennial generation has been experiencing the consequences of the slow-growth U.S. economy in difficult job prospects for several years now, despite the fact that they’re the most-educated group of potential workers America has ever produced. Therefore more of them are telling surveyors that they’re questioning the value of their college degrees, even as many of these members of Generation Y also struggle to pay off student loans that financed their vocationally fruitless education.

Now comes new evidence of the ineffectiveness of modern American college education, in the form of a complaint from U.S. business leaders who are supposed to hire and train these graduates. And the insight underscores why it’s so difficult for U.S. business chiefs these days to bring themselves to expand hiring.

Just 11 percent of business leaders in a new survey by Gallup strongly agreed that today’s college graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace; and only 14 percent of the general populace of surveyed Americans expressed strong agreement.

Meanwhile, a survey by Bentley University revealed that 35 percent of business leaders said that the recent graduates they’ve hired would get a “C” or lower for job preparation, if graded.

But interestingly, despite this evidence to the contrary, a new survey of college chief academic officers by Inside Higher Ed magazine showed that 96 percent believed they were doing a good job!

In this disconnect between what business chiefs believe about new college grads, and what academic leaders believe about how they’re preparing these graduates, lies a profound problem: Despite all sorts of evidence to the contrary, leaders in American higher education have embraced the fallacy that producing record numbers of graduates means somehow that these graduates have learned something.

“It’s such a shocking gap; it’s just hard to even say what’s going on here,” Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, told Slate.

One possible explanation for the disconnect is that higher-ed leaders believe they’re being picked on unfairly. “There’s a conundrum here,” Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, told Slate. “Everybody knows in a knowledge economy that a higher education credential is absolutely more critical than ever. As a result, we can be more critical of higher education than we may otherwise be.”

The survey reported in Inside Higher Ed contained another clue to why college administrators are busily patting themselves on the back while business chiefs fume: Only 9 percent of the corporate leaders and rank-and-file citizens said that the name on the sheepskin is important, and 54 percent actually said it wasn’t important. Maybe college leaders are spending too much time tooting their institutions’ own horns at the expense of doing their jobs well.

The Bentley University survey included one clue to why business leaders and college executives view college graduates’ level of preparedness so differently. Many in each group blame companies for the problem, at least in part. Just over half of business decision-makers and 43 percent of corporate recruiters said the business community itself deserves a “C” or lower on how well they are preparing recent grads for their first jobs.”

Yet, there’s a hopeful sign in the Bentley results in that nearly half of higher education officials surveyed said the same of their own performance. “I hear the liberal arts colleges not sounding defensive, the way I think they did a couple of years ago,” Bentley University President Gloria Cordes Larson told Inside Higher Ed. “What I’m hearing is, ‘We’re all a part of the set of solutions.’

“This is an amazing new generation of highly talented kids who are prepared to work; they just work differently than the other generations did. They’re willing to send out those emails at 2 a.m. because that’s how they roll, rather than work 9 to 5.”

And in another indicator that this problem at least is being increasingly recognized, recent graduates transitioning to work were harshest on themselves in the Bentley study: Three-fifths said they blame themselves for their level of preparedness.


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