A Crisis of Confidence? Or something more fundamental?



A survey released earlier this month by Gallup and Strada Education Network revealed that current college students do not feel prepared for the workforce. The poll represents the views of more than 32,000 students at 43 public and private four-year universities across the country.

The results were sobering:

  • Only a third of students believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34 percent) and in the workplace (36 percent).
  • Just half (53 percent) believe their major will lead to a good job.

A report on the survey, entitled “Crisis of Confidence,” goes on to show that students who “receive career-specific support,” visit their school’s career services offices, or use online career resources feel more confident about their workplace prospects. The report concludes that universities should improve students’ confidence by pushing students and faculty into more conversations about career options.

But students don’t need confidence. They need skills.

Students are correct in their assessments; they don’t just feel unprepared, they are unprepared. Employers agree. Back in 2014, Gallup found that only 11 percent of business leaders “strongly agree” that universities are effective at preparing students for the workforce.

Another survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates in 2015 on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, showed that employers give college graduates low scores for preparedness across learning outcomes. For example, only 28 percent of employers surveyed thought that students were well-prepared in oral communication. The proportion is even lower for written communication (27 percent), critical thinking (26 percent), and problem solving (24 percent).

For the most part, Gallup and Strada have drawn the wrong conclusion—and prescribed the wrong solution. To be sure, career services and faculty dialogue might help students choose better majors, but they cannot address the real problems of student preparedness. Universities must fundamentally change what they teach and how they teach in order to ensure that students have the broad skills and capacities required to succeed in today’s workforce. They must restore academic rigor to coursework, improve the core curriculum, and stop rewarding students for mediocre work.

Nearly all students (86 percent) who attend college expect to improve their employability and ability to advance in a career. Colleges must do better to deliver on this promise.

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