skip to main content
Many Business Leaders Doubt U.S. Colleges Prepare Students

Many Business Leaders Doubt U.S. Colleges Prepare Students

by Preety Sidhu and Valerie J. Calderon

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Business leaders have doubts that higher education institutions in the U.S. are graduating students who meet their particular businesses' needs. More than one-third of business leaders agree with the statement "higher education institutions in this country are graduating students with the skills and competences that my business needs." About a third disagree with this statement -- including 17% who strongly disagree -- while another third is neutral.

022614 doubts higher ed

These findings are from a Nov. 25-Dec. 16, 2013, telephone survey with 623 U.S. business leaders that Gallup conducted on behalf of Lumina Foundation. The sample for the business leader study is nationally representative of businesses in the U.S., with minimum quotas by sales revenue. The study gauges business leaders' perceptions of higher education in this country. The business leader poll was conducted concurrently with the third-annual Gallup/Lumina Poll report on Higher Education.

Few Business Leaders Believe U.S. Colleges and Universities Are the Best

When asked to react to two statements about the quality of higher education in the country, 37% of business leaders agree the U.S. has the highest quality college and university system in the world, including 19% who strongly agree. Nearly as many -- 32% -- disagree.

The perceived deficiencies of the American higher education system, however, do not mean that employers are turning elsewhere when hiring. Slightly more than one in 10 business leaders agree that their business must hire foreign-born workers as a result of a shortage of American workers with necessary skills, including 4% who strongly agree. But 57% strongly disagree with this statement.

022614 doubts higher ed

Although most business leaders disagree that they need to hire foreign-born workers, a majority, 61%, would favor a policy of issuing green cards to foreign-born international students who graduate from U.S. higher education institutions. And 36% would oppose it.

022614 doubts higher ed


There is a disconnect between what business leaders need and what higher education institutions think they are producing. A separate Gallup study for Inside Higher Ed finds that 96% of chief academic officers at higher education institutions say their institution is very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work. Quite the reverse, business leaders say that college graduates do not have the skills that their particular businesses need such as applicable knowledge and applied skills in the field. Even though leaders are not yet turning to foreign-born workers when hiring, they favor increasing green card policies for foreign-born international graduate students in the U.S.

There is clearly room to increase collaboration, with a strong majority of business leaders favoring an increased level of collaboration between higher education institutions and businesses. An increased level of collaboration will benefit both business leaders and higher education institutions in preparing students with the right knowledge and applied skills so that they are ready for the real world and have the best opportunity to find a good job.

Survey Methods

This article includes results from the U.S. Business Leaders poll conducted by Gallup on behalf of Lumina Foundation.

The study reported includes findings from the Gallup/Lumina Business Leaders Poll on Higher Education, a quantitative survey conducted to understand the perceptions of business leaders about the quality and effectiveness of American higher education institutions in preparing graduates for the workforce. Gallup conducted 623 interviews with business leaders in executive and senior roles at their company. The sample was from Dun & Bradstreet. A simple stratified random sample design was used for sampling businesses. Businesses were grouped into five strata based on sales revenue ($50,000-$499,999/$500,000-$4.9 million/$5 million-$14.9 million/$15 million-$49.9 million/$50 million-$100 million+). Businesses with larger sales revenue were oversampled to ensure enough completes for analysis. Weights were calculated to take into account sampling rate and the non-response rate by sales revenue and census region.

Gallup conducted surveys in English only from Nov. 25-Dec. 16, 2013. Up to five calls were made to each business to reach an eligible respondent.

The questionnaire was developed in consultation with representatives from Lumina Foundation and Gallup. All interviewing was supervised and conducted by Gallup's full-time interviewing staff. For results based on the total sample size of 623 business leaders, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±6 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls. Reported frequencies may not add up to 100% in some cases due to rounding or the exclusion of "don't know" and "refused" results.

Smaller and larger business groups were created for the Lumina Foundation leader project based on annual revenue. For this study, businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenue are classified as small businesses and businesses with more than $5 million in annual revenue are classified as large businesses.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030