Surveys of College Educators and Employers

Over the past decade, numerous regional and national surveys have revealed a disturbing trend: college educators and employers overwhelming agree that young adults in the United States are not equipped with the foundational skills and work habits they need to succeed in higher education or the modern workplace. In addition, a remarkable degree of consensus has emerged from these surveys about the specific skills that young adults are lacking—a few of the most commonly cited skills include oral and written communication, technological and informational literacy, critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, perseverance and self-direction, creativity and imagination, and civic and ethical literacy, among others.

Further confirming these findings, a recent study conducted by the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education—America’s Skill Challenge: Millennials and the Future—came to the following conclusion:

“One central message that emerges from this report is that, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.

The findings also offer a clear caution to anyone who believes that our policies around education should focus primarily on years of schooling or trusts that the conferring of credentials and certificates alone is enough. While it is true that, on average, the more years of schooling one completes, the more skills one acquires, this report suggests that far too many are graduating high school and completing postsecondary educational programs without receiving adequate skills. If we expect to have a better educated population and a more competitive workforce, policy makers and other stakeholders will need to shift the conversation from one of educational attainment to one that acknowledges the growing importance of skills and examines these more critically.

All of this evidence suggests that the skill gaps among young adults in the United States are not only severe and consequential for the future of our country, but that merely increasing the number of young adults earning degrees will simply not get the job done—we need proficiency-based approaches that ensure our young people leave high school and college with the education, skills, and work habits they will need to succeed in the colleges, careers, and communities of the 21st century.”


Rising to the Challenge: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers (Achieve, 2015)

Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success + Executive Summary (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2015)

Job Outlook Survey (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2015)

Bentley University Preparedness Study: An In-Depth Look at Millennial Preparedness for Today’s Workforce (Bentley University PreparedU Project, 2014)

Bridge That Gap: Analyzing the Student Skill Index (Inside Higher Ed, 2013)

2014 Talent Shortage Survey (ManPower Group, 2013)

MassINC Poll of Massachusetts Employers (MassINC, 2013)

The Employment Mismatch (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2013)

Critical Thinking Means Business (TalentLens/Pearson Education, 2013)

It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success + Executive Summary (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2013)

2013 Talent Shortage Survey (ManPower, 2013)

State of the Economy and Workforce Survey (Adecco, 2013)

ACT National Curriculum Survey + Previous Surveys (ACT, 2012)

AMA 2012 Critical Skills Survey (American Management Association, 2012)

Across the Great Divide: Perspectives of CEOs and College Presidents on America’s Higher Education and Skills Gap  (Civic Enterprises, 2010)

Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2010)

AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey (American Management Association, 2010)

The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce: Exploring the Challenges of Employer-Provided Workforce Readiness Training + Executive Summary (The Conference Board, 2009)

How Should Colleges Assess And Improve Student Learning? Employers’ Views on the Accountability Challenge (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2008)

Critical Skills Needs and Resources for the Changing Workforce + Executive Summary (Society for Human Resource Management and, 2008)

How Should Colleges Prepare Students To Succeed in Today’s Global Economy? + Executive Summary + Top Ten Skills (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2007)

Preparing for the Future: Employer Perspectives on Work Readiness Skills (Massachusetts Business Alliance, 2006)

Are They Really Ready To Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce (The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, 2006)

Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? (Achieve, 2005)

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