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AAC&U Survey Finds a Liberal Education Still Important for Hiring Employees

In the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) 2023 survey, "The Career-Ready Graduate: What Employers Say About the Difference College Makes," findings show that employers feel a liberal education without government restrictions is important for preparing new hires to be effective employees. In addition to a college degree, microcredentials are also increasingly important, the survey found.

The survey, conducted on behalf of AAC&U by Morning Consult, queried 1,110 executives and hiring managers in May 2023. This is the eighth such survey commissioned since 2006. As in the past, this year's survey found a continued correlation between a liberal education and enhancement of job skills needed for success. These are the major findings in four key areas:

  • Confidence in higher education: Despite declining public confidence in a college education, 80% of employers somewhat or strongly agreed that higher education prepares graduates for success in their jobs, even though it is costly and time-consuming. Broad knowledge and skills were also valued for employee success.
  • Workforce readiness of recent graduates: In general, 80% of employers felt that recent college graduates are prepared to succeed in a job, but a much smaller percentage (only 34%) felt that college has prepared graduates for specific job skills such as oral communication.
  • Microcredentials: These non-degree certifications have become increasingly important in preparing for new jobs. Most employers (68%) said they would prefer to hire a college graduate with at least one microcredential.
  • Government restrictions on higher education, i.e., topics or knowledge prohibited from teaching or discussion: A whopping 90% of employers felt students should be exposed to a multitude of topics and opinions, and 80% felt that all topics should be open for discussion in college. While 75% felt the government should have no role in determining this, responses showed divisions by employers' ages, job position, and political party.

The survey report concluded with this statement: "When it comes to a national conversation on workforce preparedness, higher education should not simply be at the table; colleges and universities should be designing the table."

Expanding on this, the survey made several recommendations:

  • Curricula should enhance and assist college graduate workforce preparedness;
  • Student advising should take into account their experiences and development of purpose;
  • Other practices besides internships should be pursued for workforce preparedness;
  • Exposure to different perspectives and topics can help to make successful learners and workers; and
  • Colleges and universities should take the lead in defining and developing microcredentials.

Visit the survey page to learn more and download the full report.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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