Report: Employers Say College Graduates Lack Essential Skills to Succeed in Today’s Global Economy


Two-thirds of employers (63 percent) say college graduates lack essential skills to succeed in today’s global economy, according to a new report by the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, or LEAP, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

College graduates will need much more cross-disciplinary knowledge and an advanced set of communication and analytical skills to apply their knowledge to real-world problems, says the report. It also urges a more thorough application of liberal education in American colleges and universities.

“The quality of learning, not the possession of a diploma, will determine whether the next generation can keep our economy and democracy strong,” says AAC&U President Carol G. Schneider. “It’s time to stop channeling students into narrow tracks that prepare them for an initial job but not for tomorrow’s challenges.”

As examples, Scheider says engineers need to know how to communicate across diverse cultures and scientists need to understand the ethical implications of their work.

Other findings of the poll say that 76 percent of business leaders want colleges to “place more emphasis” on teamwork skills in diverse groups; 82 percent want emphasis on science and technology; and more than 70 percent of employers want colleges to emphasize critical and analytical reasoning, as well as creativity and innovation.

Wayne C. Johnson, Hewlett Packard’s vice president of university relations worldwide, says that too often college graduates come into HP with the technical knowledge “but what is missing is using the right side of the brain — where communication and creativity takes place.”

Johnson says the LEAP report is important because it promotes actual learning that students need as opposed to just getting a diploma.

“Students need to work in diverse teams to solve complex problems … and not too many know how to do that in order to negotiate a complex global environment,” he says.

A separate survey shows that 72 percent of recent college graduates say the main aim for colleges should be to provide a balance of both a well-rounded education and knowledge/skills in a specialized field.

Former Harvard University President and current interim president Derek Bok says the findings were significant because it makes it clear that colleges must raise the bar on learning outcomes.

“The LEAP report provides a comprehensive roadmap for how colleges and universities can provide the important outcomes of a good liberal education to more students through a creative synthesis between vocational and liberal arts education,” he says.

Dr. George D. Kuh, director of the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Chancellor’s Professor of Higher Education at Indiana University, says evidence points to the positive results of college learning communities in colleges in helping students work in diverse groups, communicate and apply those skills in the real world. Hispanics involved in first-year communities showed a dramatic increase in the GPAs. Similarly, the likelihood of sophomore retention grew from 0.83 to 0.98 for Black students engaged in educationally relevant programs.

By Shilpa Banerji

© Copyright 2005 by