What employers want from graduates

Colleges have been scrambling over the past year to respond to recommendations from a national commission that they be clearer to the public about what students have learned by the time they graduate.

Sometime in the next several weeks, for example, a national online initiative will be launched that allows families to compare colleges on measures such as whether they improve a student’s critical-thinking skills.

Tools for such measurements were recommended by the national commission, which was created by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. The group released its recommendations in late 2006.

Now, a sampling of the nation’s employers have weighed in. And they are not terribly impressed.

The survey of 301 business leaders nationwide suggests that colleges find ways to assess a student’s ability to apply college learning to real-world settings.

Forget transcripts, multiple-choice tests or institutional scores. The surveyed business leaders want faculty assessment of internships, senior projects or community-based work.

“Too many policymakers and educational leaders are focused on the tests rather than on what is really important: whether students are learning what they need to know,” says Roberts Jones, president of Education & Workforce Policy, a consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va.

The survey, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, was released Tuesday by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a non-profit national organization that promotes a liberal arts education.

It builds on a survey last year in which business leaders said 63% of graduates are not prepared for the global economy.

Carol Geary Schneider, the association’s president, said the survey findings suggest colleges and universities look for new ways to demonstrate student success.

“We need to invent new forms of accountability that look at such issues as global knowledge and self-direction and intercultural competence, not just at critical thinking and communication skills,” she says.

Among survey details:

•57% said half or fewer of today’s college graduates have the full set of skills and knowledge necessary to advance in today’s workplace.

And though most say graduates are reasonably well-prepared in a variety of areas, they are not exceptionally strong in any.

•40% said a faculty supervisor’s assessment of a student’s internship in a real-world setting would be “very useful.”

•14% said a score showing how an applicant’s college compares with others in advancing students’ critical-thinking skills would be “very useful.”

•13% said college transcripts are “very useful.”

•6% said an applicant’s score on a multiple-choice test of general content knowledge would be “very useful.”

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