Friday, February 5, 2010

What Employers Want (AACU)

The American Association of Colleges and Universities recently released a report titled "The Quality Imperative." Central to this report is the chart below on what employers want from colleges (and, by extension, from college graduates):

(Sorry for the poor quality of the graphic. Click on the chart or the link in the first paragraph to get the full report)

What struck me (and what also struck the authors of the report) is the duality of the data: Employers want more emphasis on science and technology and on global issues. They want more emphasis on complex problem solving and on ethical decision making.

The authors of the report seem to be making the case that we no longer live in a world with an ivory tower at one end of the spectrum and a trade union at the other. We now live in a world where theory and application are inextricably bound together.

It is difficult, sometimes, for students to understand this -- that it is a broad appreciation of the world combined with concrete skills that will serve them best in a future where it is difficult to know what is important now, much less what will be important next. It is good to see that employers are well-aware of the way the world has changed and of the broad range of skills necessary to deal with it.

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M L Kingsley said...

Yes, that is encouraging. The deceptively simple word CONTEXT comes to mind.
A brilliant prof at U Maryland Computer Science Department, Dr. Ashok Agrawala (I think he invented OCR; I use terms like "brilliant" sparingly)is very, very big on that, and Agrawala's also-brilliant mainstay,Faculty Research Assist. Christian Almazan, is completing his doctoral thesis on Context.

Pat said...

This study seems rather self-serving to me. It's not surprising to find an association of colleges and universities suggesting the importance of obtaining a well-rounded education through the attainment of a degree or two. Suggesting that employers want more out of a job candidate seems overly broad, difficult if not impossible to address, and may in fact be meant simply to keep students from choosing "silo" programs that will lead towards a job (and not a well-rounded education). The results of these kinds of studies can land in brief articles on trends in education that prospective students will read in national magazines. Ultimately the study may serve more as a scare tactic than a discussion point towards a correction of US education policy.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


I appreciate your comment but I have to disagree. Our own Intelligence Studies program is a good example of a successful mix.

We are a heavily applied program. Our goal is to educate the next generation of intelligence analysts. We want them to be able to go out and DO intel analysis in the same way you might expect and engineer or and architect to do engineering and architecture.

That said, I think our students benefit greatly from the liberal arts component that we offer from our core classes. They are exposed to religion and art AND macroeconomics and statistics (among other odd pairings).

Our track record shows that this mix is highly employable and tends to do well once on the job.

I do agree that the study was, as most of these studies are, designed in some ways to support the position of the organization sponsoring it (it is hard to imagine the AACU publishing a study that showed the opposite, for example).

Still, I thought it worth noting, if only because it tracked so well with my experience here at Mercyhurst.


János said...


Sometimes I feel as if math and science (though not technology) aren't emphasized as much as they could be at MCIIS, and while those two subjects aren't always directly related to intelligence analysis, they do enhance critical thinking in ways that writing often cannot.

As a current undergrad, I see the overwhelming majority of my fellow classmates take math problem solving (i.e. pre-9th grade algebra) as their core/distributive math class. This is appalling, and I've learned from experience not to take such classes. I recall once at an interview that my resume and very high GPA strongly impressed the interviewer, until they saw some of the classes on my transcript and promptly told me to stop taking "basket weaving" classes.

There are other applications for advanced math and science classes, too. For instance, a student/analyst looking to get into non-proliferation could consider physics classes, while a student interested in statistical research could take advanced statistics classes.

While I have been taught not to delve into policy, perhaps in future years advisors can put more emphasis on academic rigor than acquiescing to the "easy 4.0" classes. Other than that, I think MCIIS students and graduates get a very well-rounded education.