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Recruiting Intelligence

Are we just expecting too much from an education?

The report "The Voice of the Graduate" is providing a view of student satisfaction with higher education. We are evaluating and our ability to prepare graduates for appropriate positions in the professional world in light of students' choices of their majors and to a smaller extent their choice of academic institution. The global consultancy, McKinsey prepared this research as part of their ongoing initiative “education to employment."

The authors highlight the paradox and gap between the undeniable value of higher education for the individual and society as a whole and the concerns about preparedness many recent graduates nonetheless report.

Our question is: "What is the appropriate goal for universities?" Reports like this leave us wondering whether the glass half full or half empty and much relates to the question of our expectations for higher education. According to this study, one in three graduates of four-year colleges feels that his or her education did not prepare them well for employment. What is our expectation? Are we being unrealistic? The report also points out that students largely believe they are overqualified for the jobs they find themselves in after graduation; saying many don’t require a college degree. Is this a surprise to anyone who has been in the workforce for more than five years? College graduates are eager to dive in and roll up their sleeves and they feel thwarted and undervalued when their early jobs require scut work. Is this news?

The report makes a couple valuable observations:
· Students do not learn early enough about their own strength and likes, or about the potential of the chosen academic major leading to regret over their choices afterwards. Graph 1 highlights satisfaction after the fact regarding two aspects: choice of institution and chosen academic major. Satisfaction with the chosen institution is highest for the Top 100 Institutions. Only 22 percent would choose differently. Yet, using hindsight, 35 percent at other 4-year institutions would choose differently and even slightly more at 2-year institutions.
· Yet almost 40 percent of all graduates would choose a different major. Their chosen discipline becomes a significant source of disappointment creating a gap between expectations and reality.

After reading the report, we are left whether the 37 percent of the survey respondents who did not graduate may have skewed the results unnecessarily. We recognize that graduation rates are currently too low and require attention, but it seems to us that the sample should be focused on students actually graduating since colleges can only have the desired impact if you complete the education.

Graph 2 looks at student satisfaction with individual majors and preparation for the work environment. Overall 70% feel well-prepared with technical fields yielding higher satisfaction and higher job-related use of the skills as well as higher compensation. We do wonder whether greater longitudinal studies would find that business management and other majors require more time to find your place within the professional world and mature into the required skills. But if that is true, what is the value of the education and the investment required in contrast to the technical skill sets?

Related to that question, Graph 3 offers perspective on university career services in two dimensions: On one hand, students don’t seem to use available career services such as almuni networks. And on the other hand, universities need to focus on providing more comprehensive career preparation. To wit, universities with integrated co-op programs seem to provide a valuable service. These programs require strong and dedicated connections between the university, companies and alumni.

This survey focused on domestic students, but we know from our research and experience that international student are looking for and greatly value the career development support in universities. We recently published a couple of ebooks related to engaging alumni in international student recruitment and using Linked In for your own alumni research for international enrollment activities. Both of these publications are helping universities develop the international career networks that support students as they transition into their careers. And with successful employment comes the holy grail of positive word of mouth marketing.

Positive expectations being met = customer praise.

Graph 1

Graph 2

Graph 3

Topics: Insights