I recently came across a report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities about employers’ views on college learning. Although this report provides U.S. data, it seems to me that it would apply in most advanced economies, including Canada.
My more purist academic friends would now state that universities are not vocational schools, and the views of employers don’t really matter. And, my friends might be right. Except that they aren’t.
Whether or not we like it, most of today’s students are going to university in order to get a better job. And employers want better qualified employees. So if two very important customers want something, then what they want matters. We ignore their needs at our peril. We risk becoming irrelevant.
Here is the good thing about this report (for my more purist friends). For the most part, the learning outcomes that employers want are consistent with a strong liberal education. Things like knowledge of human culture, of the physical and natural world. Oral communication, critical thinking, reasoning, analysis, problem solving, teamwork skills, information literacy. Employers especially want ethical decision-making. and personal and social responsibility.
What we expect from undergraduate students is increasing, to reflect the increasing complexity of the world. At the same time, our high school graduates are less prepared in some respects than in the past. Helping our university students prepare for what’s ahead is just as important as helping them remember the dates of the War of 1812.