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College Presidents: Aware of What's Important, Not as Effective at Execution

College Presidents: Aware of What's Important, Not as Effective at Execution

by John H. Pryor
College Presidents: Aware of What's Important, Not as Effective at Execution

The primary reason why people go to college in the 21st century is to get a better job than they could get without a college degree. It is this promise that motivates millions of Americans to go to college. And yet too many recent college graduates are underemployed or even worse, unemployed. Employers say that part of the reason for this is that college graduates do not have the skills and abilities to thrive in the workplace, such as problem solving and critical thinking. Many college graduates are not able to apply what they learned in college in a workplace setting.

The result is that many graduates don't have the job they thought they would get, and many employers have openings for skilled employees they cannot fill. Both are bad for the individuals affected and for the American economy. Changing this needs to be a priority of every college president in the United States.

A recent survey of college presidents by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed asked these presidents to rate how important various factors were in helping their graduates get good jobs. We then asked how effective they thought their institution was in these same areas. What we found was that most presidents knew which factors were important. They just were not very effective at implementing them.

Almost nine out of 10 (89%) college presidents think having an emphasis on critical thinking skills through college is very important. Yet only 40% rate their institution's efforts as very effective.

Approximately three out of four (72%) college presidents think that having their faculty understand the skills and abilities needed by employers was very important, but only 22% report being very effective at this.

And while 78% of college presidents think providing internships that help students apply what they are learning in the classroom is very important, only 38% think they are very effective at this.

Clearly there is a gap between what presidents believe is important to help students get good jobs, and what is being done effectively at their institutions. Why is this the case? Getting a better job is the main reason why students go to college. Many spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that degree. Many go into debt as well. Yet most college presidents give their own institution pretty low ratings in these areas of critical importance to their graduates.

How might this change for the better? While there are many potential solutions to bridge this gap, one potent way is to help students see the connections between school and the work world -- and one way to do this is by infusing real-world problem solving into the classroom. The presidents that Gallup and Inside Higher Ed surveyed know this is important. Seventy-five percent say that it is, but only 31% believe they are very effective at it. For recent graduates to be successful in the difficult job market, that needs to change.

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