Student – Employer Perception Gap

Student – Employer Discrepancies on Key
Learning Outcomes and Skills

global computer technology conceptAccording to a recent Hart research report titled Optimistic About the Future, But How Well Prepared? College Students’ Views on College Learning and Career Success,  students and employers were asked to identify the important learning outcomes of those attending college. Hart undertook this research for the Association of American Colleges and Universities and it involved surveying students within one year of attaining their degree or transferring to a 4 year university. Employers were also surveyed.

The results showed that both students and employers have similar opinions on key learning outcomes. Those where 50% or more students and/or employers agreed were highly important outcomes are listed below.

  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills
  • The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
  • The ability to effectively communicate orally
  • The ability to work effectively with others in teams
  • The ability to effectively communicate in writing
  • Ethical judgment and decision-making
  • The ability to analyze and solve complex problems
  • The ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources
  • The ability to analyze and solve problems with people from different backgrounds and cultures
  • The ability to innovate and be creative
  • Staying current on changing technologies and their applications to the workplace
  • Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the US
  • The ability to work with numbers and understand statistics

Although they tend to agree on the importance of the learning outcomes, they are certainly not in agreement as to the level of preparedness of students or college graduates on each of these. In fact, the discrepancy between student perceptions and employer perceptions are startlingly large.

The chart below shows how prepared students believe they are on each of these skills versus how employers perceive college graduates are on these skills. Clearly students are far more optimistic about their capabilities than employers. (Click graphic to expand.)

Student Employer Perceptions2

In 9 of the 13 learning outcomes, including written communication, ethical judgment and decision making, locating, organizing and evaluating information, being innovative and creative, oral communication, analyzing and solving complex problems, applying knowledge and skills in the real world, critical and analytical thinking, and working with people from different backgrounds, the gap is more than 30%

This information might well be a wake up call to colleges and universities if they feel that part of their mission is to help graduates become successful in the workplace. Employers should examine their expectations to determine if they are realistic. Employers need to work more closely with higher education institutions to convey their expectations, and higher education needs to listen. Both need to work hand-in-glove to improve the outcomes that both students and employers consider to be critical to career success.

What are your thoughts on this information?


Wall, Janet_500x500Janet E. Wall, EdD, MCDP, CDFI, SMMS, NCDA Fellow, is a career development professional in Arlington, Virginia. She is committed to the continuing education of all career counselors, coaches and specialists by providing online courses and webinars through http://www.CEUonestop.com. She was the developer of the ASVAB Career Exploration Program for the Department of Defense, and was recently named a Fellow of the National Career Development Association. She is co-author of the Ability Explorer published by JIST.


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