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Employers Want Broadly Educated College Grads, Capable Of Innovation: AACU Survey

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Wanted: college graduates with broad knowledge in the liberal arts, expert knowledge in their specific field and an electronic portfolio handy.

College major? Not the biggest concern.

According to a new survey of 318 executives at private sector companies and nonprofit organizations, employers look for more than someone who's specially trained in a field when considering recent college graduates for jobs.

In a survey released Wednesday by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of employers agreed that "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major." Four out of 5 employers said each college graduate should have broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences, and 3 out of 4 would recommend a liberal education to their own children.

AACU president Carol Geary Schneider described it to The Huffington Post as "breadth and depth," and said the message here is colleges ought to stop narrowing their curricula.

The survey's findings call into question whether lawmakers focused on steering students away from liberal arts majors are on the right track.

A majority of employers -- 55 percent -- said they look for grads with both field-specific skills and a broad range of knowledge for longer-term career advancement. Just 16 percent said having knowledge and skills that apply to a specific field is the most important criteria they seek.

Of respondents in the survey, 83 percent said an e-portfolio of student accomplishments would be useful in evaluating candidates for hire.

But employers appeared split about how well they think higher education at large is doing preparing students for the working world. While 47 percent said colleges are doing a "good job" prepping graduates, and another 9 percent said they're doing an "excellent" job, 40 percent think the American higher education system is doing only a "fair" job.

Two-thirds of employers in the AACU survey said all or most college graduates are equipped for entry-level positions, but a smaller 44 percent said they had the skills necessary for advancement or promotion.

This is similar to the results of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey which found 63 percent of employers believe colleges are good at producing successful employees, but 31 percent said they did only a "fair" or "poor" job.

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