The anxiety that many college students, and parents face regarding employment opportunities after graduation is visceral, amped-up further by the enormous financial investment that typically comes with higher education.
While it may seem wise to become more pragmatic when choosing a major, too narrow a focus may not prove successful. Even paths that once seemed a sure bet are now suspect, such as whether attending elite schools pays off.
And one of the latest trends will surprise many: Students might be “better off thinking about employability being driven by experiences which are extracurricular” — like internships — rather than a school’s status.
University is not just about preparing students for work. It should also be about intellectual exploration and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. But nor should workplace skills be an optional extra. They should be integral to what higher education has to offer.
IBM’s Institute for Business Value, in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit, surveyed almost 1,000 industry and academia leaders for their views on the issues confronting higher education. The results paint a picture of a broken system that is in desperate need of repair.
Higher education is failing to meet the needs of both students and employers, and only a fundamental transformation can put it on the right track. These are the findings of a major survey of leaders in industry and academia, which cast doubt on higher education’s ability to fulfil a core role of preparing graduates for the world of work. And the results will add to the voices calling for a complete rethink of the purpose and value of a college degree.
According to the survey, fewer than half of respondents – 49% – felt higher education was meeting the needs of students, while a smaller proportion still, 41%, said it met industry’s needs. Only 43% said it gave students the skills they needed to join the workforce.
And yet this is one of the core purposes of higher education. The IBM study ranked job placement rates as the most important measure of effectiveness, just ahead of instilling creativity and problem-solving skills in students. Interestingly, it was educators themselves who were most convinced of the importance of getting students into jobs.
The study identifies three core strands required to get higher education back on track:
- Providing more practical and applied education experiences
- Using technology to improve access, experience, variety and outcomes
- Strengthening relationships with strategic partners
But the survey found these came low down the list of priorities for academic leaders. Just 44% wanted to collaborate with external leaders in developing curricula, while 24% said universities should seek to launch careers.
More important for academic leaders were maintaining uniformity across course requirements (58%), maximizing seats filled (55%) and seeking funding from external bodies (51%). It seems universities want to take the money but without offering anything extra in return.
University is not just about preparing students for work. It should also be about intellectual exploration and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.
But nor should workplace skills be an optional extra. They should be integral to what higher education has to offer. They do not have to be vocation-specific to be useful: curiosity, analysis and decision-making are all sought-after by employers.
When the cost of higher education is rising all the time, students deserve to take a course that will be relevant to the rest of their lives, and that means higher education has to be more aligned with the workplace.