As Americans spend more and more to get college degrees, more and more people are beginning to question the value the recipients and the taxpayers are receiving.
Certainly, as a percent of GDP, the U.S. spends more on college education than any other developed country on Earth save one. At 2.9%, only South Korea ties us. We outspend Canada (2.5%), Finland (1.9%), Sweden (1.8%), the Netherlands (1.7%), Israel (1.6%), France (1.5%), Austria (1.4%), Germany and the UK (both at 1.3%), and Italy (1.0%).
A recent survey conducted by The Chronicles of Higher Education (together with American Public Media’s Marketplace) showed that fully half of all employers report having a problem finding college grads truly prepared for employment. About a third of these employers rated colleges as being mediocre or worse at producing graduates with the necessary skills for success, such as communication skills, problem-solving skills, and adaptability.
Then why do two-thirds of employers demand a degree? Amazingly, the article concedes that part of the explanation here is that a college degree is often just used by employers as a sorting mechanism. After all, a high-school diploma often conveys vacuous information, a result of pervasive grade inflation and social promotion.
Now, this concession — from the chief publicity organ of the higher education industry, please note — is commendable. The Chronicles piece goes on to offer some explanations — or excuses — for the poll results. It suggests that the disappointment felt by employers is in great measure due to their unrealistic expectations that college grads be able to handle the rapidly expanding new technological innovations “straightaway,” and the claim by one professor of management that employers’ complaints about incoming employees being poorly prepared is an old story. As he claimed, “I understand that those doing the hiring in ancient Greece complained about the same thing.”
However, these recent complaints are specific and recurrent: that college grads lack the ability to argue logically and analyze data reasonably, and to read, write, and orally communicate well. The survey showed that while 69% of employers surveyed rated colleges as good or excellent at producing “successful” graduates, 53% said it was difficult or very difficult to find qualified grads. Worse yet, only 33% rated grads as more qualified than 5 years ago.