The Career-Ready Graduate: What Employers Say about the Difference College Makes

This report presents the findings from a national survey of employer views on higher education and its effectiveness in preparing students for the workforce. Conducted online in May 2023 by Morning Consult, the survey of 1,010 executives and hiring managers is the eighth commissioned by AAC&U since 2006.

Consistent with longitudinal findings from previous AAC&U employer surveys, the 2023 survey found a strong correlation between the outcomes of a liberal education and the knowledge and skills employers view as essential for success in entry-level jobs and for advancement in their companies. Below are highlights from the findings in four key areas explored by the survey.


  • In recent years, public polling has documented a steady decline in Americans’ confidence in major societal institutions, including higher education. Yet, among employers, confidence in higher education remains relatively high. The AAC&U–Morning Consult survey found that 8 in 10 employers agree either strongly or somewhat that higher education prepares graduates to succeed in the workforce and that getting a college degree is worthwhile, despite the cost in time and money. The survey also found strong support for the broad knowledge and skills associated with a liberal education, as well as for the development of specific mindsets and dispositions while in college.

  • Eight in 10 employers agree either strongly or somewhat that recent college graduates are well prepared overall to succeed in entry-level positions and to advance beyond them. When it comes to specific skill areas, however, employers clearly see room for improvement. Oral communication, for example, is viewed by most employers (64%) as a very important skill for new hires to possess, yet roughly half as many employers (34%) agree that recent college graduates are very well prepared in this area. The survey found similar gaps between the perceived importance of several other skills and perceptions of recent graduates’ preparation in those areas.

  • The survey found strong support among employers for microcredentials. When hiring for an entry-level position, most employers (68%) would prefer to hire a college graduate who also has a microcredential. Employers are evenly divided between those who would prefer to hire a high school graduate with a microcredential (14%) and those who would prefer to hire a college graduate without a microcredential (13%).

  • The survey explored employer views on so-called “divisive concept” laws and other government restrictions on what is taught at colleges and universities. Nearly 9 in 10 employers agree either strongly or somewhat that exposure to a wide range of topics and viewpoints is an important contributor to workforce preparedness, and 8 in 10 agree that all topics should be open for discussion on college campuses. While employers overall are evenly divided on whether the government should play a role in determining what is taught, 3 in 4 would look more favorably on a degree from an institution that is not subject to government restrictions. However, employer views vary significantly by age, position, and party affiliation. Employers under the age of 40 (61%) are more than twice as likely as employers aged 50 and above (28%) to agree that the government should play a role in determining what is taught at colleges and universities; executives (63%) are more likely than hiring managers (46%) to agree; and more employers who identify as Democrats (61%) than as Republicans (41%) or Independents (28%) agree.