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STEM Majors Most Confident About Job Prospects

College students in STEM majors are the most likely to be confident regarding their job prospects, according to new survey results from Gallup and Strada Education Networks. But among all students, confidence shrinks as graduation nears. While 56 percent of freshmen expressed confidence in their choice of major, only 51 percent of seniors said the same. And while 36 percent of first-year students said they expected to graduate with the "knowledge and skills" they'd need to be successful in the job market, only 32 percent of seniors were as confident.

The report, "2017 College Student Survey: A Nationally Representative Survey of Currently Enrolled Students," suggested rethinking current models used for career advising and "work-relevant" learning. The survey, which queried 32,585 students at 43 randomly selected four-year institutions, examined how current students perceive their preparation for the workforce as well as the career-related support they receive from their schools.

People in science, technology, engineering or math majors expressed the highest confidence regarding their job prospects (62 percent), vs. 40 percent in liberal arts, 51 percent in business majors and 58 percent in public service majors (such as education, social work or criminal justice). However, public service-oriented students were more likely to show confidence in what they've learned: Forty-six percent said they'd graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in workplace, compared to 36 percent for STEM majors.

Preparation for workforce, by major. Source: "2017 College Student Survey: A Nationally Representative Survey of Currently Enrolled Students" from Strada Education Network/Gallup.

Just half of all respondents (53 percent) said they believe their majors will lead to a "good job." Those who have career-focused experiences in their colleges and universities showed much greater confidence regarding their preparation for the workforce. Forty-two percent of those who spoke "often" or "very often" about career options with faculty and staff members reported feeling confident they had the skills and knowledge required for the job market, vs. just 27 percent of those who "rarely" or "never" did so.

Researchers found that almost four in 10 students (39 percent) have never visited their campus career services office or used online career resources; that includes a third of seniors (35 percent).

Among those who have tapped career services, minority, first-generation and older students were more likely to rate the guidance they received as "very helpful." For example, on average, black students rated the assistance they received 13 points higher than white students; that included a 21-point difference for help in applying for a job for after graduation. Hispanic students rated the value of the assistance they received eight points higher than white students, on average.

The importance of academic advising took a hit in the survey. While 46 percent of all students said their advisers provided "helpful guidance" about which courses to take, only 28 percent said the same about adviser help on identifying a career.

The report offered a few recommendations. First, it suggested that instructors and staff could do a better job of laying out the connections for students between the coursework they're doing and their future careers, as well as helping them understand potential career options. Second, it noted that institutions could do a better job of pushing students "to seek out conversations with faculty members about career options." That's especially true for under-represented and underserved students, the researchers added.

"Students aren't prepared for work — and they know it," said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Education & Workforce Development at Gallup, in a prepared statement. "The fact that 88 percent of freshmen say 'getting a good job' is the reason they go to college, yet only a third strongly agree they are getting the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, is a mandate to improve how institutions approach everything from their academic curriculum to advising."

The 35-page report is available with registration on the Gallup & Strada Education Network website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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