The summer 2015 issue of the Phi Kappa Phi Forum featured an article summarizing a recent survey of 300 employers entitled “The Value of Student Agency.” It was an interesting article in light of the fact that so many people are lobbying for universities to be job training centers. On line forums are replete with comments like, “No one forced students to accept substantial loans to finance their educations, all too often in fields for which there were no jobs following graduation.” Or, “That person making your latte probably has a masters degree in something no employer finds useful.” Or, “There is a lot of slop that colleges pass off as "education."”
A typical university mission state reads as follows:
ABCU aims to graduate lifelong learners with the courage to challenge boundaries, ask questions and ignite knowledge with creativity. ABCU students take charge of their own intellectual and artistic development and integrate an active, independent, critical and reflective perspective into their lives as a whole.
I suppose to many ears, that sounds like “slop.” So the question is what do employers want from College graduates.” The survey sought to answer that question. According to the results, employers want that “slop.” 90+% employers say they want employees who think critically, communicate clearly, solve complex problems, promote innovation and that these qualities are more important than any specific undergraduate degree. In other words, employers say they want employees who went to college to get educated, not to get job training.
Traditionally, college has been the place to get an education, and employers provided the job training. If college is for education, then, for example, whatever your major, one thing all students should learn at college is how to formulate and defend ideas without resorting to the logical fallacies and ad hominem so prevalent in online forums. However, if college is for job training, then choosing a marketable major/job is the important thing. Given that 65% of incoming freshman need remediation in English and/or math, apparently college is truly the new high school. Right now society needs to decide what it truly wants of college, education or job training.
The second question is whether the employers interview in the survey answered honestly, or told the interver what they thought he wanted to hear. Employees who actually have the desirable qualities say they often find themselves actively discouraged from displaying just those qualities. Thinking critically and communicating clearly implies a contradiction with being a team player. And “being a team player” is usually code for going along to get along.
The biggest problem I see with college students is their lack of seriousness. t would be great if students took their K-12 education way more seriously and qualified themselves for some of the millions of dollars in scholarship money that goes unawarded every year. Instead, what we have are students who think K-12 means "doing time," and then choose their college based on its party-school ranking. Think not? Ask any high school guidance counselor.