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College Fail: Employers Say Grads Are a Disappointment

Employers are increasingly disappointed by the graduates available for hire, according to a survey conducted by The Chronicle and American Public Media’s Marketplace:

Half of those surveyed…said they had trouble finding recent graduates qualified to fill positions at their company or organization. Nearly a third gave colleges just fair to poor marks for producing successful employees. And they dinged bachelor’s-degree holders for lacking basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems.

This is especially troubling considering both the soaring cost of bachelor’s degrees and the fact that they are a prerequisite for a large and still growing number of jobs. Employers prefer college graduates because, if it does nothing else, it serves as a signal of determination and staying power. But at $200,000 for four years at some schools, that is one incredibly expensive signal, especially if it isn’t also giving students other essential marketable skills. Universities should be thinking about more than just keeping costs down; they need to be thinking seriously about what students are learning for their tuition dollars.

More and more at Via Meadia, we’re coming to believe that separating young people from the world of work into their twenties is a terrible, crippling idea. Work is a natural aspect of a rich and satisfying life; the artificial environment in which so many young people live stunts their growth, limits the development of important character traits and skills, and artificially extends a kind of feckless adolescence that is neither ultimately satisfying or helpful.

We don’t look to a revival of chimney sweeps or child labor in coal mines, but one of the tasks of the 21st century must be the development of a more integrated approach to learning and work. Kids should work more in their teens and twenties, and older people will have to be learning more as skills become obsolete and industries change.

In the meantime, colleges and universities need to think much more carefully about what students need to learn in order to be ready for adult life. A liberal arts education isn’t about learning narrow technical skills, but it needs to prepare students for life as it is actually lived. One reason so many colleges fail is that the gap between the world of work and the world of school has become almost unbridgeable. That needs to change.

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