AAC&U News, September 2018
Facts & Figures

Employers Agree: College Degrees are Worth It

AAC&U's newest employer research, “Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work,” found that business executives and hiring managers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning and cross-cutting skills as the best preparation for long-term career success. The report summarizes selected findings from two parallel national surveys—one of 501 business executives at private sector and nonprofit organizations and another of 500 hiring managers whose current job responsibilities include recruiting, interviewing, and/or hiring new employees. The wide-ranging findings include employer opinions about confidence in colleges and universities, student preparation for work, valuable skill sets and experiences, internships and applied learning experiences, ePortfolios, and workplace training and professional development.

College Degrees Are Worth It

  • A large majority of executives (82 percent) and hiring managers (75 percent) believe that it is very important or essential to complete a college education (see fig. 1).
  • Executives (88 percent) and hiring managers (85 percent) also believe that college degrees are worth the time and effort necessary to graduate.
  • “No matter what an individual’s degree is in, the college experience produces a well-rounded individual who is prepared to interact with high-level employees,” one executive wrote in the survey.

Figure 1.


Employers Are Confident in Higher Education

  • On average, business executives and hiring managers express a higher degree of confidence in colleges and universities than does the American public.
  • In a January 2018 poll, Gallup found that 45 percent of adults nationwide expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in colleges and universities.
  • Among business executives and hiring managers, 63 percent express quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in colleges and universities—notably higher than among the general public.
  • As another executive wrote, “A good college can instill a combination of hard job-specific skills and soft real-world skills that can allow a job candidate to contribute to our organization quickly. The degree demonstrates the individual’s ability to commit to a path and complete an objective."

Employers Are Satisfied with Recent College Graduates They Hire

  • More than half of executives (56 percent) and hiring managers (54 percent) find it difficult or very difficult to fill open positions at their organization today, and most (71 percent of executives and 74 percent of hiring managers) are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the ability of their recent graduates to apply skills and knowledge they learned in college to complex problems in the workplace.
  • Employers think recent graduates are prepared with the full set of knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in entry-level positions (57 percent of executives and 60 percent of hiring managers), but not necessarily to be promoted or advance within the company (34 percent of executives and 25 percent of hiring managers).
  • Still, one hiring manager wrote, “Potential for advancement is far greater for the college graduates.”
  • Many companies offer training opportunities for employees to gain additional skills necessary to advance. Overall, 79 percent of business executives and hiring managers report that their company provides professional development.

Employers Value Skills and Learning Experiences that Cut Across Majors

  • The college learning outcomes that both audiences rate as most important include oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, working effectively in teams, written communication, and real-world application of skills and knowledge (see fig. 2).
  • One hiring manager wrote, “The overall college experience is an excellent way to offer diversity, development of all forms of communication, self-discipline, independence, and personal responsibility. These qualities are critical for the workplace.”
  • While both audiences value these skills, only 33 percent of executives and 39 percent of hiring managers think that recent graduates are very well prepared to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings.

Figure 2.


  • Nearly all executives (93 percent) and hiring managers (94 percent) would be more likely to hire recent graduates who have experience with an internship or apprenticeship with a company or organization. Employers are also more likely to hire students with other applied or project-based experiences (see fig. 3).
  • Business executives and hiring managers also find ePortfolios more helpful in the hiring process than college transcripts and resumes alone. Overall, 78 percent of executives and 81 percent of hiring managers find ePortfolios useful when evaluating recent graduates, versus 51 percent of executives and 48 percent of hiring managers who find college transcripts useful.

Figure 3


Did You Know?

The majority of executives (59 percent) and hiring managers (53 percent) say that their companies partner with colleges and universities in some way, most commonly to offer service learning opportunities, internships, and/or apprenticeships—underscoring the weight that employers place on applied experiences and real-world skills when evaluating college graduates. Executives and hiring managers at larger companies are significantly more likely than those at smaller companies to report that their companies partner with colleges and universities in most of these ways.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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