Most college seniors (93%) believe what they are learning is "relevant to their career paths," though students in professional fields such as business and engineering had slightly more confidence than those in the arts and sciences, according to a recent survey by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University's School of Education. The survey polled more than 275,000 first-years and seniors across 476 colleges.
Nearly half (47%) of seniors said their college experience contributed "very much" to their critical and analytical thinking abilities. Those with education or health majors indicated larger perceived gains in work-related abilities than average, and those with engineering and social service majors saw above-average perceived gains in their ability to tackle complex real-world problems.
Although students who discuss their future careers with professionals and advisors are more likely to indicate confidence in their post-graduation plans, only about half (53%) of those indicating they completed career preparation items used their college's career services sources "at least sometimes" during their senior year to talk about careers. Similarly, 49% said they attended a career fair and 60% said they either shadowed or interviewed a professional.
The high confidence seniors reported in their education's relevance to their career plans contrasts several other recent surveys on how well college is preparing graduates for the workforce.
For example, just over half (53%) of enrolled students said they "strongly agree" their major would turn into a good job, with the widest divide between STEM majors (62%) and liberal arts majors (40%), according to the Strada-Gallup 2017 College Student Survey. And only about one-third of students "strongly agree" they would have the skills and knowledge for success in the workplace upon graduation.
Meanwhile, 46% of U.S. employers said they're struggling to find workers with the skills they need, according to a 2018 survey by the global staffing firm ManpowerGroup. At companies with 250 employees or more, an even larger share of employers reported the issue (58%).
Better preparing students for the job market has been a hot topic in higher education as the emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced manufacturing eat up some jobs while creating others.
Survey results indicate students feel even less equipped to deal with these future workplace realities. Among 3,297 U.S. adults, only 22% of those with at least a bachelor's degree said their education left them either "well" or "very well prepared" to use AI in their jobs, according to a recent Gallup-Northeastern University survey.
To close the gap between skilled workers and job market demand, colleges can better tailor their programming by finding ways to align it with competencies valued in the workplace and current labor market demands, a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recommends.
Others say colleges should focus on teaching students the skills needed for lifelong employability instead of predicting what types of jobs will be available. In his book "Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence," (MIT Press, 2017) Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun wrote that higher education should prepare students by teaching them sought-after soft skills such as creativity, ethics and cultural agility along with technical literacy.