In January, members of the Association of American Colleges and Universities gathered in the nation's capital to celebrate the organization's centennial year and debate how they are doing in training America's youth for work in the real world.
The organization got the conversation started with a report that showed business leaders and college students agree on the most important skills and knowledge to master in higher education — they just disagree on whether students are actually mastering those things.
Good new hires should be able to communicate effectively both in writing and orally; work well in teams; make ethical decisions; have critical thinking skills; and be able to apply their knowledge to whatever situations pop up on the job, according to a report prepared for the university organization by Hart Research Associates that combined findings from two national surveys — one of business and nonprofit executives, the other of students.
Trouble is, employers don't think that enough of the potential employees they're talking to can apply the book learning from college to real-life situations. One employer reportedly said, "They can't solve problems unless they look exactly like it did in the textbooks."
Some attendees at the conference were discouraged.
There is some truth to the view that employers never seem to be satisfied, said Debra Humphreys, spokeswoman for the organization of more than 1,300 colleges and universities.
But she also thinks those surveyed are onto a disconnect between giving students good grades for academic work and giving them the experiences that allow them to practice problem solving outside of the classroom.
Roughly half of college students, maybe fewer, are doing internships, she said. "This is a no-brainer. We have to help them."
Some of the organization's members at the gathering were encouraged by the fact that educators had already identified the issue and are putting programs in place to address it, she said. Mount Holyoke, a small college in Massachusetts, reports on its website that it has seen a 55 percent increase in summer internship placement since it began guaranteeing funding to every eligible student in 2013.