Report: College Grads Lack Skills Needed for Workforce


A test of almost 32,000 students has determined that 40% of US college students are graduating without the skills necessary to succeed in a white-collar job.

The test was administered at 169 colleges and universities throughout 2013-14.  Released late last week, it showed that the intellectual development of each student depended greatly on the type and location of the school they attended.

While the average student does do well developing their own abilities, many are still graduating without particular complex reasoning skills due to starting their college education starting at a deficit.

“Even if there is notable growth over four years, many students are starting at such a low point they may still not be proficient at the point of graduation,” said Jessalynn K. James, a program manager at the Council for Aid to Education, which administered the test. The CAE is a New York-based nonprofit that once was part of Rand Corp.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus studies increases in students’ intellectual abilities between freshmen and senior year.  While the test does not cover specific subject areas, it does look at critical thinking, analytical reasoning, literacy, writing and communication — all considered necessary skills for professionals, writes Douglas Belkin for The Washington Journal.

“These are the skills that are important no matter what you are doing; if you’re serving on a jury or looking for a good candidate to vote for, these are highly transferrable skills,” Ms. James said.

Despite these findings, 60% of the 613 students surveyed feel they are well-prepared in terms of these critical thinking skills and ready to be successful in the workplace, writes Mark McGraw for HRE Online.

At the same time that the test results were released, tuition and student debt is on the rise across the country, and the value of the college degree is being reconsidered.  President Barack Obama recently announced a plan for a new college-rating system that would determine how well schools are preparing students for the workforce, among other things.

The American Association Colleges and Universities will be releasing a survey of business owners next week, which will find that 90% of employers believe college graduates to be poorly prepared for life in the real world in terms of critical thinking, communication and problem solving.

“Employers are saying I don’t care about all the knowledge you learned because it’s going to be out of date two minutes after you graduate … I care about whether you can continue to learn over time and solve complex problems,” said Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement at AAC&U, which represents more than 1,300 schools.

According to Ms. James, freshmen students were used to sitting for exams, while senior students may not have put as much effort in due to a lack of incentives for participation.  While the CAE tried to statistically correct for this, it was hard to do so because the test was not given to the same group of students over a four-year period.

The test revealed that midsize schools, enrolling between 3,000 and 10,000 students, in the Western US held the highest rate of cognitive growth, although it is unclear why that is.  In addition, low-income and minority students made the most significant gains, although in most cases they started out lower than average.

01 17, 2015
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