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Business Leaders Think Colleges Could Be More Efficient

A new report shows that while business leaders believe in the importance of higher education, they are concerned about the out-of-control cost of tuition, colleges' inability to adapt to change, and their lack of accountability. Many fear the growing skills gap could have serious consequences for the nation's economic future.

Hiring and Higher Education: Business Leaders Talk About the Costs and Benefits of College was released by the nonprofit organizations Public Agenda and the Committee for Economic Development. It is based on interviews and focus groups with 40 corporate executives in the fall of 2011 from large and mid-size companies. While the information from this qualitative research does not represent the views of the entire business community, the report notes, it does gives some insight into members' attitudes.

Among the themes that emerged from the business leaders:

• Higher education is critical to the nation's economic competitiveness, and the
system must remain top-notch for the country to stay innovative.

• A four-year college degree isn't for everybody, and skilled labor should be valued. One consequence of overemphasizing a bachelor's degree is that it has been perceived as critical for individual success, giving colleges power to raise prices too much and keeping many qualified students out because of the high cost of tuition.

• Higher prices are not linked with improved quality. There is a feeling that higher
education is wasteful and inefficient. Administrators are too often resistant to change.

• Corporate leaders complain that young workers often lack communication skills and a sense of a strong work ethic. There is also a talent shortage in STEM graduates.

• Business executives see getting involved in higher education through traditional routes, such as mentoring, apprenticeship programs, and serving on curriculum committees. There is not an inclination to speak up in policy debates regarding higher education reform.

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