ANALYSIS: Academics think a 4-year degree is everything, employers disagree

Employers want employees with well-honed soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork, but graduates reportedly lack proficiency in these areas.

Nine out of 10 higher education professionals are convinced that their institutions are churning out job-ready warriors. But employers, current students, and recent grads beg to differ. 

Higher education’s career-preparation efforts are not exactly hitting the bullseye, according to a recent Grammarly for Education and Higher Ed Dive report

Citing surveys conducted by the Cengage Group and College Pulse, the collaborative report states that a mere 41% of recent graduates believe that their college degree effectively signals to employers that they possess the much-needed skills. Current students are also adding their voices to the chorus of concern, with a paltry 14% expressing satisfaction with the assistance provided by their campus career centers.

Employers are not pleased either. 

The cries from the job market echo a desire for employees with well-honed soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork, but graduates reportedly lacked proficiency in these areas.

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Pointing to Gallup, the report cites that “Only 11% of business leaders said they believed college graduates were well prepared for the workforce.” 

This sentiment is also captured in a 2021 Harvard Business Review article, which exposes the irony of universities being viewed as the guardians of workforce talent, though they neglect the pressing demands of job skills and career readiness.

“Employers view universities and colleges as the gatekeepers of workforce talent, yet those same institutions aren’t prioritizing job skills and career readiness,” the review reads. “[T]he U.S. education system is not held accountable for ensuring that students are properly equipped with the skills and capabilities to prepare for a career where they can obtain financial stability.”

A striking 96% of employers deem communication prowess as vital. However, the hunt for skilled communicators is agonizingly elusive.

Grammarly for Education and Higher Ed Dive point to universities’ challenges in teaching writing skills as a reason why college graduates are bad communicators. 

However, the scarcity of communication prowess isn’t solely an outcome of subpar coursework. It’s also a byproduct of the nurturing cocoon universities construct when they shield students from opposing viewpoints.

In April, for example, Tirien Steinbach, the associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Stanford Law School, unexpectedly interrupted a speech by Judge Kyle Duncan at the university’s Federalist Society event. 

Video of the incident shows Steinbach criticizing the Trump-appointed judge’s positions and encouraging student protests. 


Judge Duncan event at Stanford from Ethics and Public Policy Center on Vimeo.

Intolerance towards conservative political viewpoints is not just the hallmark of universities’ liberal arts or law schools, as most people may expect, but is even taking place across business programs. 

MBA curricula are undergoing a transformation, infused with DEI initiatives with the aim to sculpt future business titans to be ‘woke.’

Examples include Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, Yale University’s School of Management, University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

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Beyond nurturing ‘wokeness,’ DEI programs reward students for reasons that often lack merit, ultimately setting them up for a hard fall in the professional arena.

Regrettably, while Grammarly for Education and Higher Ed Dive sidestep student coddling, which undoubtedly cripples graduates’ ability to communicate effectively, it nevertheless sheds light on the uphill battle universities face in preparing graduates for the workforce. 

Fortunately, it offers a prescription for the illness that is workforce ill-preparedness.

It suggests a two-way conversation between employers and colleges. With input from employers, higher education institutions could better prepare students for the workforce by focusing on the development of essential job skills, it argues.

As higher education institutes seem preoccupied with advancing leftist political agendas, however, it’s hard to gauge if they will rectify curriculum shortfalls.

For now, employers will need to rely on other entities to address the crick in the workforce pipeline.  

In Mississippi, The Skills Foundation, “a non-profit focused on increasing the skilled workforce,” launched the “Skills That Pay” campaign to raise awareness about well-paying skilled jobs in energy, manufacturing, and healthcare. 

The initiative aims to educate students, parents, teachers, and stakeholders about high-quality, lucrative careers available without a four-year degree. 

The campaign aligns with a national trend of promoting vocational training as an alternative to four-year degrees. States like Maryland, Utah, and Pennsylvania have eliminated degree requirements for many state jobs, aiming to broaden access and diversify the workforce. 

Conservative leaders in Congress are also getting involved in promoting vocational skills, with efforts to amend the Pell Grant to fund workforce training programs.

“For far too long, we have perpetuated the idea that obtaining a baccalaureate degree is the pinnacle of success. More and more, people are waking up to the fact that America is transitioning to a skills-based economy and skills-based programs are the key to remaining competitive in the future,” Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Rep. Dr. Virginia Foxx previously told Campus Reform

As the job market evolves, it’s high time academia catches up. The glittering promise of a 4-year degree can no longer be a mere illusion, it has to actually equip graduates with the skills that truly matter. 

Follow Jared Gould on X for more stories like this. 

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.