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Press Release

Debra Humphreys, 202/387-3760 ext. 422
Gretchen Wright, 202/371-1999

All Students Need a Contemporary Liberal Education That Provides More Knowledge and a Broader Set of Skills to Succeed in Global Economy, Major New Report Concludes

New Poll: Two-Thirds of Employers Say Graduates Lack Essential Skills

WASHINGTON, DC—January 10, 2007—To succeed in today’s global economy, college graduates will need much more cross-disciplinary knowledge—in science, global cultures, technology, and society; an expanded set of advanced skills, including in communication, teamwork, and analytic reasoning; and much more practice in applying what they learn to real-world problems.

Those are among the conclusions of College Learning for the New Global Century, a new report released today by the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), a ten-year initiative convened by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to bring together high-level business, education, labor, philanthropy, and policy leaders to chart a way forward for higher education in the 21st century.  The new LEAP report identifies essential aims, learning outcomes, and guiding principles for a 21st century college education, and calls on colleges and universities to re-map the curricula so that all fields of study help students acquire a set of “essential learning outcomes.”

The LEAP Council also released two national polls that explore how well schools are preparing the future workforce, both conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates.  A poll of employers finds that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say that too many of today’s graduates lack the skills to succeed in our global economy.  By large numbers, employers call on colleges and universities to place more emphasis on helping students acquire broad knowledge, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and the integration and application of learning.  A separate survey of recent college graduates also finds that 72 percent say the main objective for our nation’s colleges and universities should be to provide a balance of both a well-rounded education and knowledge/skills in a specific field.

“The findings from these polls are significant and make quite clear that colleges and universities must raise the bar for college learning,” said Harvard University President Derek Bok. “Students must do more than equip themselves for their first job. They need a broad education to prepare them for a well-rounded life. Employers too are seeking graduates with far more than just technical skills. They want more and better liberal education for all students. The LEAP report presents a comprehensive roadmap for how colleges and universities can provide the important outcomes of a good liberal education to more students through a creative synthesis between vocational and liberal arts education.”

With the capacity to innovate now the United States’ most significant competitive advantage, the high-level knowledge and skills traditionally associated with liberal education have become the new passport to economic opportunity.  But too few college students develop the broad knowledge and versatile skills they need because of how colleges and universities currently organize their curriculum.  The LEAP report contends that, whatever their field of study, all of today’s students need a liberal education that integrates knowledge, skills, and practical applications.  The academy’s traditional divisions of “liberal arts” and “professional” fields stand in the way of students’ and the nation’s long term interests.

“The quality of learning, not the possession of a diploma, will determine whether the next generation can keep our economy and our democracy strong,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider.  “It’s time to stop channeling students into narrow tracks that prepare them for an initial job but not for tomorrow’s challenges.  Engineers need to know how to communicate across diverse cultures, scientists need to think through the ethical implications of their work, and computer programmers need to understand the real-world conditions that shape the lives of those who will use their programs and products.  A college education needs to give students more than technical knowledge; it needs to help them succeed in all aspects of work and life.”

Business leaders agree.  The poll also found that: employers want colleges to place more emphasis on such issues as science and technology, global developments, and teamwork skills in diverse groups; just 22 percent want colleges to focus narrowly on providing students skills and knowledge in a specific field; and 76 percent would recommend that a young person get a four-year college education that provides both broad knowledge in a variety of areas and in-depth knowledge in a specific major or field.  “Companies like Hewlett Packard recognize that their competitive advantage in the global economy hinges on finding workers who can innovate and apply knowledge and skills in a dynamic and changing environment,” said Hewlett Packard’s Vice President of University Relations Worldwide, Wayne Johnson.  “What is especially heartening about the LEAP initiative is that it gets to the heart of the matter—not just the question of getting kids into college, but getting them to achieve a much broader set of learning outcomes that will be essential for their success, and the success of America’s economy.”

College Learning for the New Global Century identifies a series of effective educational practices that colleges and universities should adopt and provide to far more students than currently have access to them.  They include:

  • First-Year Seminars and Experiences;
  • Common Intellectual Experiences;
  • Learning Communities;
  • Writing-Intensive Courses;
  • Collaborative Assignments and Projects;
  • “Science as science is done”/Undergraduate Research;
  • Diversity/Global Learning;
  • Service Learning, Community-Based Learning;
  • Internships; and
  • Capstone Courses and Projects.

“A strong liberal education is invaluable, and this report is a welcome tool for colleges and universities working to find ways to best serve today's students and today's society.  The report sharpens our focus on the learning and critical thinking skills that students need to succeed and make a difference in today’s world," said Mary Sue Coleman, President of the University of Michigan.

Schneider said that LEAP Council members will take the new recommendations to the higher education community, business leaders and recruiters, and state and federal policy makers.  AAC&U will also work with colleges across the country to make the LEAP principles a priority for change, form coalitions across sectors to foster change, and put employers in direct dialogue with students. 

The news conference to release the poll and College Learning for the New Global Century was followed by a Business-Higher Education Leadership Forum hosted by Georgetown University President Jack DeGioia, and featuring education and business leaders including Ted Leonsis of AOL and the Washington Capitals and Arthur Rothkopf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to Schneider and Johnson, today’s news conference featured Ronald Crutcher, Co-chair of LEAP National Leadership Council and President, Wheaton College (MA); Tony Carnevale, Senior Fellow, The Education Sector; Geoffrey Garin, President, Peter D. Hart Research Associates; and George Kuh, Director, National Survey of Student Engagement and Chancellor’s Professor, Indiana University Bloomington.  The report profiles effective practices being used today at more than a dozen colleges and universities.  To read more about these and other effective educational practices at institutions across the country, visit

The public opinion polls were conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in November and December of 2006.  The poll of 305 executives at companies with at least 25 employees who report that 25 percent or more of their new hires hold at least a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college has a margin of error of +/- 5.7 percent.  The poll of 510 people who graduated from a four-year college between 1997 and 2001 has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent.

AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises nearly 1,300 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, and faculty members who are engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce the collective commitment to liberal education and inclusive excellence at both the national and local levels, and to help individual institutions keep the quality of student learning at the core of their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.