Employers care more about critical thinking and problem-solving skills than a college major, they say in a survey conducted on behalf of the Association Of American Colleges And Universities.

In "It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success," a majority of business and nonprofit leaders said they want graduates who hold a degree.

They specifically indicated that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”

A majority of survey participants also added they want employees who will contribute to innovation in their workplace and have broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

"One can acquire these skills through a variety of methods all of which can, indeed, be incorporated into the college curriculum," Debra Humphreys, Association of American Colleges and Universities vice president for policy and public engagement, said via email.

Nearly every college in the country insists that all their students acquire high-level written communication skills and most do so through a combination of dedicated courses, she said in the email.

Critical thinking, she added, usually is developed through general education courses and more deeply in discipline-specific courses.

"The complex problem-solving skill is a particularly important one to success in today’s workplace and it, too, can be developed through the curriculum," Humphreys said. "But only if faculty work together to develop courses and assignments in courses that actually engage students in solving complex problems in their fields."

Humphreys said complex problem-solving skills also are likely to be better developed the more students engage in field-based work—including through community-based research, service learning and things like guided internships.

A blend of traditional study in liberal arts and professional fields with much knowledge gathered through real-world situations is an emerging model of high-quality college education, Humphreys said, adding that many hold to the overemphasis of a certain major because there is no simple framework for a more blended model.

"In certain fields, of course, the undergraduate major is essential (e.g. nursing or engineering), but for many, many fields, the undergraduate major is only loosely or not at all related to the actual job or profession a student is likely to have after they graduate," she said. "And even those who major in very specific professional fields need the broad outcomes of a good liberal education to succeed as those fields evolve over time."



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