Universities Can Do More to Prepare Students for the Workforce

A new survey finds that work experience, not college, best prepares graduates for the real world.

One of the main goals of colleges and universities is to prepare students to enter the workforce, ideally in a manner connected to their fields of study. Likewise, a college degree has largely become the gold standard of baseline qualification for a majority of entry-level positions. While a degree continues to hold value, however, the ability of colleges to prepare students for workplace success may be on the decline.

A recent survey by eLearning firm Go1 found that employees of varying ages feel that their college degree has not been the most helpful contributor to their workplace preparation. Forty-six percent of respondents said that higher education failed to prepare them for their current jobs; 61 percent of those polled reported that their work experience had offered better preparation. Despite the differing ages and nationalities of the 3,000-plus employees polled, the findings remained fairly consistent across all groups.

Nearly half of business respondents said that recent college graduates are unprepared for the workforce.While Go1’s survey considered only a small portion of the many jobs and workforces that exist, the implications are still relevant to the masses. And Go1 isn’t the only organization raising questions about the extent to which college trains students for post-graduation success. In fact, another survey recently found that 4 in 10 business leaders feel that college graduates, and specifically those of the last three years, are poorly prepared for the workforce.

Earlier this year, the data-analysis outfit Intelligent.com surveyed over 1,200 business leaders to find out how recent college graduates are faring in the workplace. Nearly half (40 percent) of the respondents said that recent college graduates are unprepared for the workforce, with poor work ethics (70 percent) and communication skills (70 percent) serving as the top examples. Taken together, the two surveys present a unified conclusion: Students don’t feel that colleges are preparing them for the workplace, and employers largely agree.

Respondents to the Go1 survey shared some of the things they wished college had taught them: for example, navigating career progression (50 percent), fundamentals of their role (32 percent), and how to collaborate with other departments (31 percent). Given that employees and businesses alike are sharing legitimate concerns, one wonders what colleges and universities are actually doing where career development, collaboration training, and communication skills are concerned.

Again, these surveys capture only a portion of employee and employer perspectives; however, the general consensus appears to be that, regardless of their intentions, colleges and universities have room for improvement when it comes to preparing students for the workforce. Perhaps institutions should review their programs to see where they can add additional preparatory courses or lectures—or, possibly, they should encourage students to work a job while in school so they can gain invaluable experience. Ultimately, students are responsible for utilizing the information they have been taught and applying it to their future careers. But there may be room for improvement where higher education is concerned.

Ashlynn Warta is the state reporter for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.