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Liberal Arts Education Valued by Employers, Survey Finds

Despite calls for more career-focused education, employers are looking for new hires with both field-specific skills and a broad range of knowledge.

In an online survey of employers commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 74 percent say they would recommend a liberal arts education to a young person.

A candidate's ability to "think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major," according to the survey conducted by Hart Research Associates, with results released in a report, "It Takes More Than a Major", today.

This perspective contrasts the push for more career technical education and a recent survey that showed many parents lack faith in the marketability of a liberal arts degree.

With the rising cost of college, many students are more tuned into what majors translate into the best earning potential. Yet these findings place a premium on more general knowledge, creativity, and interpersonal workplace skills.

Nearly 95 percent of companies would give a hiring preference to college graduates who could contribute "innovation to the workplace," the survey of 318 employers reveals. The vast majority of businesses also say it is very important for new employees to be comfortable working with others from diverse cultural backgrounds and that they demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity.

To better prepare students for the workplace, the survey discovered employers wish colleges were doing more to promote critical thinking, problem-solving, communications, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.

Last month, research was released underscoring how businesses value workplace experience and internships in the hiring process.

This new survey found 78 percent of respondents felt completing an internship or community-based field project would help students a lot or a fair amount to prepare them for success. About 79 percent would like to see students complete a project prior to graduation that demonstrates their acquired knowledge and skills.

While 9 percent of employers feel colleges and universities are doing an excellent job educating students for success in the workplace and 47 percent say they are doing a good job, another 44 percent give higher education fair or poor marks.

Also today, AAC&U announced the LEAP Employer-Educator Compact in which more than 100 college presidents and 130 business and nonprofit leaders have pledged to work together to ensure that all college students have access to a high-quality liberal education that fully prepares them for work, life, and citizenship.

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