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New Poll: Employers Value Skills & Knowledge Over Institutional Prestige

mapToday Gallup and the Lumina Foundation presented the findings of two polls gauging employer and the public’s perceptions of America’s higher education system. The results, presented this morning at Gallup’s D.C. headquarters, found that a vast majority of employers value occupationally relevant skills, technical competencies, and knowledge gained through a postsecondary education much more than where a student went to school or what their major was. In fact, only 9 percent of employers reported that a job candidate’s alma mater was “very important” for their hiring purposes and a mere 28 percent reported that a candidate’s major was a “very important” factor in their hiring decision. Tellingly, 84 percent of employers said that the amount of knowledge the candidate has in a particular field was “very important” and 79 percent responded to the poll saying that applied skills were of the same value.

Overall the two polls, conducted in late 2013, provide five main insights:

  • Employers value relevant skills and knowledge much more than where a degree, certification, or credential was conferred.
  • A large perception gap persists between employers and academic institution leaders— 96 percent of chief academic officers said they were “extremely or somewhat confident” that their institution prepares students for the workplace, while only 11 percent of business leaders shared this view.
  • The value Americans place on postsecondary education continues to grow. 43 percent of Americans without a postsecondary education have reported researching their options for further education, yet 77 percent of Americans say that higher education remains unaffordable to everyone who needs it.
  • Confidence in the value of online degrees and educational programs continues to grow among both the American public and employers. 59 percent of business leaders say they would be more to likely hire a candidate with an online degree over a candidate with the same degree from a traditional postsecondary institution.
  • There is a need for greater transparency when assessing the quality and value of a postsecondary education. Faculty quality, job placement after graduation, program costs, and graduation percentages are among the most important criteria to the American public when selecting a program or assessing its quality. However, Americans report that finding this information is often difficult.

These results have come as a surprise to many. A panel discussion followed the release of these findings which provided a forum for how best to redesign America’s higher education system to respond to these findings. Among the many proposals offered, greater employer engagement and an increased role for community colleges emerged as two important pieces to solving what Gallup has now termed the “work preparation paradox.” Panelists argued that community colleges are an underutilized bridge between colleges, high schools and the world of work and should be used more to promote access to other forms of postsecondary education outside of a traditional four-year degree.  Other recommendations for better employer engagement included providing more experiential learning opportunities to students and also increasing the role employers have in faculty professional development.

The full survey with further analysis from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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