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Employers Say Knowledge, Skills Matter Far More Than Major or Alma Mater

High school students stressed out about going to a brand-name college, don't despair. A Gallup survey released Tuesday finds business leaders care way more about what you know than where you went to school.

When hiring, 84 percent of employers say knowledge the candidate has in the field and 79 percent say applied skills in the field are "very important" factors, compared with candidates' college major (28 percent) and where they received a degree (9 percent), according to interviews with 623 business leaders in late 2013. Another 37 percent said the candidate's alma mater was "somewhat important," while 54 percent said it was "not very" or not important at all.

Still, just 14 percent of executives say they are very likely to hire a candidate who has a degree from an online college over a candidate with a traditional higher education, Gallup found in the poll it conducted on behalf of the Lumina Foundation.

(The Lumina Foundation also supports Education Week coverage of P-16 alignment.)

Business leaders say they value higher education, but only 11 percent surveyed strongly agree that colleges are graduating student with the skills and competencies that their businesses need. And 71 percent of leaders say they would consider hiring someone without a degree or credential over someone with one, according to the report.

To help address these issues, the business leaders (88 percent) favor more collaboration with colleges and universities. Just 13 percent of those asked said higher education institutions and businesses collaborate a great deal.

In a blog post, Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup Education, wrote about the disconnect, noting that 96 percent of higher education leader say their schools are "very or somewhat" effective in preparing students for the world of work.

"It is possible that chief academic officers are operating with their heads in the sand," writes Busteed. "Or many Americans and business leaders are being very tough critics. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The biggest problem is that no one really knows, because the level of intentional collaboration between higher education and employers is downright pathetic at the moment."

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