Oh, Good: Only 1 in 4 Employers Say Colleges Do "a Good Job” Preparing Students

Posted: Aug 26, 2013 3:00 PM

Question: Is it really worth spending thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of dollars earning a post-secondary degree? Well, according to a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, only about a fourth of employers are satisfied with the rigors of the nation’s higher education system. So maybe not:

Only one in four employers think that two- and four-year colleges are doing a good job preparing students for the global economy, according to a 2010 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Meanwhile, GPAs have been on the rise. A 2012 study looking at the grades of 1.5 million students from 200 four-year U.S. colleges and universities found that the percentage of A's given by teachers nearly tripled between 1940 and 2008. A college diploma is now more a mark "of social class than an indicator of academic accomplishment," said Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University geophysics professor and co-author of the study.

Employers such as General Mills Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. long have used their own job-applicant assessments. At some companies such as Google Inc., GPAs carry less weight than they once did because they have been shown to have little correlation with job success, said a Google spokeswoman.

Our higher education system’s growing reputation for mediocrity is causing many schools to reconsider how they market their students before they graduate. For example, starting next year, some 200 colleges will offer a voluntary, SAT-like standardized test so global employers can realistically gauge the critical thinking and reasoning skills of their graduating seniors. Not a bad idea, right? The thinking goes that college courses have become so watered down and anachronistic in recent years that it’s virtually impossible to know whether or not students are ready and/or prepared to succeed in a global market economy. If anything, this will help employers sift through never-ending piles of résumés, and help prevent them from making, shall we say, ill-advised hires.

But hold on.

Of course, there’s no doubt these new and rigorous tests could perhaps help students who’ve attended third or fourth-tier schools distinguish themselves from, say, a candidate who graduated from the Ivy League. That’s true. But I am not now, nor have I ever been, a real fan of using a score of X on standardized tests as a prerequisite for admissions or employment. I realize many institutions believe that there needs to be some universal standard -- a cutoff, if you will -- in place to evaluate prospective students. But just like the SAT doesn’t necessarily determine what one’s grades in college will be (although admittedly the curriculum isn’t nearly as rigorous as it once was or should be) I don’t think performing particularly well on a standardized test will necessarily determine how successful -- or unsuccessful -- an employee will be at a given company. Many factors contribute to success: hard work, dedication, integrity, and communication skills are only a few. And these intangible qualities -- which are often so vital to one’s success and advancement -- cannot be adequately quantified in a sit-down, standardized written exam.