Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work

Surveys of Business Executives and Hiring Managers

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. Both executives and hiring managers express a higher degree of confidence in colleges and universities than does the American public. They also agree upon the value of college and believe that it is both important and worth the investment of time and money.

Additionally, consistent with findings from six earlier surveys commissioned by AAC&U as part of its ongoing Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, employers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning and cross-cutting skills as the best preparation for long-term career success. When hiring, executives and hiring managers place a high priority on graduates’ demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across majors, and hiring managers are closely aligned with executives in the importance that they place on key college learning outcomes. 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 the real-world application of skills and knowledge.

Business executives and hiring managers express a higher degree of confidence in colleges and universities than does the American public.

Among both executives and hiring managers, 63 percent express quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in colleges and universities—a notably higher proportion than among the general public. In a January 2018 Gallup poll, 45 percent of adults nationwide expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in colleges and universities.[1]

Strong majorities of executives (82 percent) and hiring managers (75 percent) believe that it is very important or absolutely essential for individuals today to complete a college education.

Business executives and hiring managers indicate satisfaction with recent graduates’ ability to apply the skills and knowledge they learned in college in the workplace, but they think that recent graduates are better prepared to succeed in entry-level positions than to advance. Among both audiences, majorities believe that colleges and universities need to make improvements to ensure that college graduates possess the skills and knowledge needed for workplace success at the entry level and especially for advancement.

Executives and hiring managers alike agree on the value of college

Employers continue to endorse broad learning as essential to long-term career success.

  • When hiring, executives and hiring managers place a high priority on graduates’ demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across majors, and hiring managers are closely aligned with executives in the importance that they place on key college learning outcomes.
  • As noted above, 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. This is consistent with findings from the employer survey that Hart conducted on behalf of AAC&U 2014 (published in 2015).[2]

The learning priorities that executives and hiring managers value most highly cut across majors.

Business executives and hiring managers indicate that participation in applied and project-based learning experiences—particularly internships or apprenticeships—gives recent college graduates an edge.

  • Internships and apprenticeships stand out as the applied learning experiences most highly valued by employers: 93 percent of executives and 94 percent of hiring managers say that they would be more likely to hire a recent graduate who has held an internship or apprenticeship with a company or organization.
  • When considering a job candidate, large majorities of business executives and hiring managers say that completion of other types of applied and project-based learning experiences would give a recent graduate an advantage in the hiring process.
  • While both audiences value applied experiences and real-world 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.

Business executives and hiring managers find ePortfolios more helpful than college transcripts and resumes alone when evaluating and hiring recent graduates.

  • 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.

Business executives and hiring managers reveal expectations for continued learning among their employees with a focus toward advancement.

  • 79 percent of business executives and hiring managers report that their company provides professional development.
  • Majorities 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 experience 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.

Most employers provide professional development opportunities


[1] Gallup, “Words Used to Describe ‘Higher Ed’ Make a Difference,” Gallup News, February 23, 2018, https://news.gallup.com/poll/228182/words-used-describe-higher-difference.aspx.

[2] Hart Research Associates, Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2015).