What Graduates Need to Succeed

Where once a college degree was considered the ticket to a good job, the pathway from campus to career is no longer as straightforward or as certain as it was for previous generations. The world and the job market are changing dramatically, and parents, students, institutions, and employers are all deeply concerned with the question of whether college is preparing graduates for careers—a question that is itself intertwined with the larger question of the ultimate purpose of a college degree. Tuition is an investment—of time as well as money, often a lot of money—and informed consumers want to know that they’re going to see a return on that investment, usually in the form of a good-paying job that leads to a satisfying and lucrative career. Hiring and training new employees is also an investment, and companies want assurances that they are bringing on competent, capable staff with the smarts to succeed and become an asset. But in a global, information-based economy, it’s no longer enough to have a college degree in hand. Graduates must be prepared for an employment market that is ever evolving, one that demands flexibility and adaptability just to keep up, let alone thrive. For their part, colleges and universities are expected to provide students with the knowledge and skills that will get them that critical first job, ideally in their field of study, with potential for growth. Employers want to hire job candidates who come to them armed not only with a degree but also an impressive array of both “hard” and “soft” skills, including relevant technical skills, the ability to analyze and problem-solve a situation, and the capacity to communicate well with supervisors and colleagues. To find out what skills employers are looking for, whether their new college hires arrive equipped with those skills, the value each sector places on a degree and on the reputation of the degree-granting institution, and how institutions are changing to meet the demands of employers, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Maguire Associates conducted a survey of college leaders and employers in May 2017. This report reflects the impressions of employers in a variety of industries and those of college and university administrators from private and public, two-year and four-year institutions.

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