For Immediate Release

David Tritelli
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs
202-888-0811 (office)

AAC&U Presents 2018 Frederic W. Ness Book Award to Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work

By Matthew T. Hora, with Ross J. Benbow and Amanda K. Oleson

Jan 24, 2018

Washington, DC­­—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today the winner of its Frederic W. Ness Book Award, Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work, published by Harvard Education Press. The Ness Award is given for the book that best contributes to the understanding and improvement of liberal education, and it will be formally presented to the author, Matthew T. Hora, at AAC&U’s Annual Meeting on January 25, 2018, in Washington, DC. Matthew T. Hora is an assistant professor of adult teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Hora wrote the book with Ross J. Benbow, an associate researcher with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Amanda K. Oleson, an education scholar focused on workforce pathways.

Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work explores how educators can ensure that graduates are adequately prepared for the future, challenging the argument that sluggish economic growth is due to a higher education system insufficiently attuned to workplace needs, with the solution being more specialized technical training and fewer liberal arts graduates. The book’s authors challenge this conception of the “skills gap,” highlighting instead the value of broader twenty-first-century skills in postsecondary education. In the book, the authors advocate for a system in which employers share responsibility along with the education sector to serve the collective needs of the economy, society, and students. Beyond the Skills Gap emphasizes the critical role of educational practice and design in preparing students for the workforce and ensuring that future employees develop robust technical expertise, cultivate problem-solving and communication skills, transfer abstract knowledge to real-world situations, and foster a lifelong aptitude for self-directed learning. 

“We are thrilled and honored to receive the Ness Award. We hope that our research draws attention to the need to invest in our postsecondary teaching workforce, who are on the frontlines cultivating the transferable and disciplinary habits of mind that employers and a democratic society desperately need,” said Hora.

This year’s Ness award winner was selected by a committee of higher education leaders including William Craft (chair), President of Concordia College; Royce Engstrom, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Montana; and Leslie Wong, President of San Francisco State University.

Beyond the Skills Gap began not as a polemic, but as a research project to discern the genuine workforce skills and habits of mind that can drive a strong economy, engaged democracy, and individual flourishing,” said Craft. “That research focus makes the book’s conclusions—about the virtues of liberal learning and what its authors call an education ‘more grounded, more authentic, and more transferable’—all the more compelling.”

The Ness Book Award was established by AAC&U in 1979 to honor AAC&U President Emeritus Frederic W. Ness. Recent award winners include The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice, a collection of essays edited by Harry Brighouse and Michael McPherson; Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters by Michael S. Roth; Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by José Antonio Bowen; Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession by Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, William Sullivan, and Jonathan R. Dolle; Why Choose the Liberal Arts? by Mark W. Roche; Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education by Peter Sacks; and Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More by Derek Bok.

For more information about Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work, visit

For information about the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, visit


About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. 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 1,400 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, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges. Information about AAC&U can be found at