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Is College Worth the Investment?

By JJ Burns

May 5, 2015

It’s almost graduation time—or possibly the time you’re starting your college search. Given the skyrocketing costs of a four-year college education, some parents and students are wondering if a higher education is really worth the investment. According to employers, it is. Although what one decides to study seems to be less important to businesses than what he or she can bring to the table.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities recently conducted a study that highlighted the five attributes that employers look for in newly minted graduates:*

  • Possesses innovation. This is a bit tricky as sometimes “innovation” is more of a buzzword than it is a skill. However, 95% of employers say they give hiring preferences to college graduates with capabilities that enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace. It’s up to the job candidate to figure out how to add innovation to a project, department, or company. Researching online and conducting informational interviews can provide insight into what innovation means to a specific organization.
  • Has critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills. It doesn’t really matter if a student majored in French or literature, or excelled in math or science. According to the study, 93% of employers said that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major.
  • Has a broad learning background. Also, regardless of major, 80% of employers think that broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences is essential. To employers, this shows the broad-based perspective and integrative thinking skills they are seeking for a variety of positions.
  • Has an e-portfolio. In the study, 83% of employers said an electronic portfolio goes a long way in exhibiting a job candidate’s talents. Post papers, a senior project, a portfolio, blog or videos—whatever is relevant to the desired position to indicate a student’s skill and proficiency.
  • Has real-life experience. Work study, internships, and community service all showcase an ability to add value, prioritize commitments, and work within a team. Classroom learning is beneficial, however, it can be passive and 86% of employers agree that active hands-on learning gives students an opportunity to apply critical thinking, develop team skills and ethical judgment, and further hone their education.

Whether a student decides on pursuing a higher education or not, the bottom line is that it’s more important to focus on knowledge and skills than a specific field of study. Employers want students who can be flexible and adapt quickly to changing demands. The ability to think creatively, solve complex problems, communicate clearly, manage multiple priorities, and work as a team will help students to thrive in a 21st century environment and be successful in their life and careers.

*Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates, It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (2013).