American employers more interested in critical thinking than a student’s major subject !

22 Apr

I’ve just come across this survey of major American employers conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) that makes very interesting reading, and makes me glad that I do what I do. As they seem so important I’ve set out the survey’s key findings below :

  • Nearly all employers surveyed (93 percent) say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.
  • Even more (95 percent) say they prioritize hiring college graduates with skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace.
  • About 95 percent of those surveyed also say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.
  • More than 75 percent of those surveyed say they want more emphasis on five key areas including: critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • 80 percent of employers agree that, regardless of their major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

Given that in UK university’s students have already selected their ‘Major’ before they arrive, and indeed may well only ever take courses in their ‘Major’ subject area we might well have an even larger issue than the USA.

I was party to a very interesting discussion a few weeks ago about the need to impart ‘cultural capital’ to our students, and that this ‘cultural capital’ was almost entirely divorced from subject-specific content. This seems to chime with the last point made above. What I do gets over the idea of ‘critical thinking’ and a broader understand of science (even if only to my psychology students), but where do they get the ‘liberal arts’ stuff from ? These all seem like ideas that university management need to be grappling with as soon as possible.

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