The long-held suspicion that there is a misalignment of student beliefs and employer expectations regarding the current skills gap crisis was empirically confirmed recently when the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) released certain survey data that included responses from 400 business executives and 613 college students on the topic of college learning and career readiness. In conjunction with AACU’s release, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article bleakly titled, “College Students Think They’re Ready for the Workforce. Employers Aren’t So Sure,” and Inside Higher Ed posted a piece that emphasized the stark disparities between employers and students: “Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes.”
AACU’s study is unique in its approach. Previous studies have focused on the alignment (or misalignment) between the workforce and curricula, instruction, and academic institutions in general. This study, conversely, emphasizes the student perspective. Although AACU’s survey data and the reporting that followed is unarguably depressing, there is (as there always is!) a silver lining to this dark cloud: namely, we have finally put students and graduates at the heart of this issue.
With AACU’s recent study, we see that students have internalized the misconceptions of their schools and professors regarding their career readiness. Unfortunately, the reality of this misconception and misalignment has left an alarmingly high number of graduates unemployed or underemployed. As this becomes more and more apparent, students are increasingly seeking schools that can demonstrate the type of ROI they seek from their education. It will no longer be enough for a school to tell students about the employability of their graduates. As students become more informed consumers, they’ll vote with their feet if a school does not have documentation that its programs lead to gainful employment. Excepting the “Harvards” of the world, the schools that fail to connect with employers will find their enrollments declining and their reputation deteriorating.