01/22/2015 06:13 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Faculty Alert: Why Are Employers Giving Low Marks to College & University Grads?

A report on a study * just released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities concluded that:

Employers of college graduates are dissatisfied with their abilities to apply... "knowledge and skills in real-world settings, (such as) critical thinking skills and written and oral communication skills -- areas in which fewer than three of 10 employers think that recent college graduates are well prepared." The graduates also received low marks from employers in ethical decision-making and collaborating in teams.

Graduating student respondents in the study provided significantly higher grades for themselves on these educational outcomes.

What can educational institutions do to improve the low marks given their graduates by their employers? ** It appears to me that the educational infrastructure needs repair.

Following are my personal suggestions, based on over a half century in the classroom working with the issues cited by the employers.

Curriculum Rigor: In two seminal studies, Arum & Roksa *** conclude that faculties are not challenging students, as they should, at colleges and universities from Ivy League to community colleges. Students are spending more time on social activities than academic pursuits such as reading and presenting their ideas orally or in written communications. In many secondary schools, rote learning is still a major teaching method that is continued at the collegiate level. Faculties need to realistically come to terms with this issue throughout the university curricula. Deeper content acquisition by graduates, often evidenced by critical thinking pedagogy, needs to be a primary focus that will eventually satisfy their employer partners.

Critical Thinking: It is well recognized that employers want graduates to have critical thinking skills, but they are at a loss to define it. Educators must take the lead in this effort; there are well known tools that can be applied to the task. While executives define critical thinking in a number of ways, their efforts can be categorized within Bloom's taxonomy, a well-known outcome model. (

Communications: Oral and written communication outcomes must be judged by both scholarly and more concise industry standards. For example, there is often a professional gap between how student peers react to an oral presentation and what may be required on the job, especially in judging content presentation. Corrective feedback when presented to students in such situations can be hurtful. Many millennials are accustomed to hearing "good job" for even feeble attempts during their maturing years. Now, even when coupled with positive comments, it can be a challenge for professors who want to avoid conflict. ( Faculties need to agree on substantial ways to meet this pedagogy challenge in the classroom so that employers and faculty peers are on the same page to meet scholarly and industry standards.

Ethical Reasoning in the Work Environment: Graduates need to learn to be alert to the ethical dimensions of the professional decisions that they make, especially when they appear to be incongruent with the long-term interests of the organization's stakeholders such as investors, customers, partners etc. The recent GM "switch" case is a classic example of college and university educated employees who failed to act ethically.

Faculty: In my opinion, the overuse of student evaluations of faculty for tenure judgments has contributed to the relaxed collegiate environment described by the data in the Arum & Roksa's longitudinal studies. Certainly data on student reactions to faculty are important, but a more balanced approach to tenure decisions needs to be developed.

infrastructure Repair

To respond effectively to employers' deep disappointment with the quality of undergraduates, educators need to:

1. Demand more academic outcomes from their students in order to insure that they acquire a deeper understanding of courses' contents and become far more facile in their applications,
2. Require that students are exposed to critical thinking in professional, technical and liberal arts courses,
3. Educate students to communicate clearly in oral and written formats,
4. Engage students in discussions that raise their awareness of the ethical dimensions of decision-making that are required when employed.
5. Recognize that student evaluations are important as one measure of teaching effectiveness. But other measures must be combined effectively, such as scholarship currency, university service, and other fact based evidences that the professor is continuing to grow.

*Scott Jaschik, (2015) "Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes," Inside higher Education, January 20th.
**Employment is only one long-term outcome for graduates. However, the abilities discussed above are also important for graduates to exhibit in their personal an civic lives.
**Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa (2014) "Aspiring Adults - Tentative Transitions of College Graduates," The University of Chicago Press. 2011 "Academically Adrift - Limited Learning on College Campuses."