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Employers seek new hires that can think, communicate clearly

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CANTON — A job candidate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems – the kinds of skills taught at liberal arts colleges like St. Lawrence University – are more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major, says an overwhelming majority of employers, according to a national report released today.

The report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” summarizes the findings of a survey of business and nonprofit employers. It finds that 74 percent of business and nonprofit leaders say they would recommend a 21st century liberal education to a young person they know to help the student prepare for long-term professional success in today’s global economy.

In conjunction with the report, AAC&U also launched a new national initiative called the LEAP Employer-Educator Compact. The LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) compact, which was developed by AAC&U and employers, calls for ensuring that all college students have access to a high quality liberal education that prepares them successfully for work, life and citizenship.

St. Lawrence University President William L. Fox, Class of ’75, and President Emeritus Daniel F. Sullivan, Class of ’65, along with more than 250 college presidents and business and nonprofit leaders, have signed the compact.

“I am proud to be a part of this national effort to bring educators and employers together to ensure that all our students understand what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace and to partner on ways we can provide students more opportunities to apply their learning in real-world settings,” Fox said. “This kind of education – one that prepares students for economic, civic and global challenges – has been at the core of St. Lawrence’s mission since its founding.”

Fox and Sullivan also are members of a leadership group within AAC&U, of which St. Lawrence is a long-standing member, called the LEAP Presidents’ Trust. Sullivan chairs the group and has been very closely involved with leading LEAP’s efforts.

“Employers make it clear in their responses to AAC&U’s biennial surveys that they need graduates who have both knowledge and competence in specific fields and the intellectual and practical skills acquired in liberal education – inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, integrative and reflective thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative literacy, information literacy, intercultural understanding, teamwork and problem solving,” Sullivan said.

“They believe these learning outcomes are now the keys to success in any job, including the jobs that are even now being invented in our rapidly changing economy,” he added.

The report on AAC&U’s national survey notes that:

■ Nearly all employers surveyed (93 percent) say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than (a job candidate’s) undergraduate major.”

■ Even more (95 percent) say they prioritize hiring college graduates with skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace.

■ About 95 percent of those surveyed also say it is important that the employees they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.

■ More than 75 percent of those surveyed say they want more emphasis on five key areas, including critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication and applied knowledge in real-world settings.

■ 80 percent of employers agree that, regardless of their major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

Employers also understand increasingly that a narrow, vocational education geared to particular jobs requires its recipients to be retrained for the next job at a significant cost to the jobholder, employers and taxpayers who fund federal and state job programs.

“In contrast, students properly educated for the high-level thinking and skills needed in the 21st century – that is, educated in a way that inspires them to become intellectually curious lifelong learners – are constantly educating themselves in their current jobs and for their next jobs,” Sullivan said. “They are self-adaptors to changing environments, and the more general skills they have acquired transcend the particular. This kind of education actually appreciates in value because its beneficiaries become more valuable in the marketplace with time.”

Several St. Lawrence alumni also have joined the compact, including Kathleen Perkins Colson ’79, CEO and founder of The Boma Fund; Donald Stuart ’77, chief operating officer of Kantar Retail Americas Consulting; John Greenwood ’75, advisory director of Morgan Stanley & Co.; and Charles Daugherty ’75, managing partner of Stanwich Advisors.

AAC&U officially launched the compact at a forum today in Washington, D.C. Participating campuses and employers will work together through 2014 to showcase employer support for the aims and outcomes of a broad liberal education and to show how higher education is helping students connect college learning with work, citizenship and global challenges.

“Too many students believe that the key to economic success is completion of a major whose title seems to promise a job,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. “What the compact and the research on employer priorities show is that, whatever the choice of major, employers say that career success will require broad liberal learning, strong 21st century skills, and ‘real-world’ experience and savvy. We want to make sure that students and their families hear this message from employers themselves.”

All the individuals signing the LEAP Employer-Educator Compact have committed to:

■ Helping Americans understand the rising demands of a global workplace and the need for every student to acquire liberal education outcomes.

■ Ensuring that all college students have access to experiences that help them develop the broad knowledge and intellectual skills needed for success.

■ Expanding and supporting new designs for hands-on learning, including such things as senior projects, undergraduate research and internships.

■ Advancing the dual mission for American higher education to prepare students both for successful careers and for civic responsibility.

■ Documenting progress in helping all students achieve key learning outcomes, including their ability to apply learning to complex problems.

Members of the Presidents’ Trust include leaders of institutions representing every sector of higher education – liberal arts colleges, community colleges, comprehensive state universities and research universities. Business and nonprofit leaders signing the compact include individuals from many sectors of the economy, including finance, engineering, manufacturing, healthcare, human services, insurance, education, media, retail, real estate and energy. For a full list of LEAP Presidents’ Trust members and employers signing the compact, see www.aacu.org/leap/presidentstrust/compact.

For a full report of the 2013 survey, see www.aacu.org/leap/public_opinion_research.cfm.

Information about AAC&U membership, programs, and publications can be found at www.aacu.org.

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