Sep 14, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

After conducting two national surveys of business executives and hiring managers as part of its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) has gleaned some invaluable insights into liberal education and the future of work. One noteworthy takeaway? That both executives and hiring managers feel more confident about colleges and universities than the public does. Here’s a closer look at the findings.

A Worthwhile Investment

According to the AAC&U report, 63 percent of executives and hiring managers say they feel “quite a lot or a great deal of confidence” in colleges and universities. This significantly outpaces the 45 percent of nationwide adults who said the same thing in a recent Gallup poll.

Furthermore, strong majorities of both executives and hiring managers (82 and 75 percent, respectively) said they believe it was “important or absolutely essential” for people to complete a college education today.

Giving Grads an Edge

The survey also revealed the learning priorities which were deemed to be very important by executives and hiring managers alike, including: the ability to effectively communicate orally; critical thinking and analytical reasoning; ethical judgement and decision-making; the ability to work effectively in teams; the ability to work independently (time management, etc.); self-motivation, initiative, and proactiveness (ideas/solutions); the ability to communicate effectively in writing; the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world setting.

In terms of the applied learning experiences that give graduates an edge, meanwhile, internships and apprenticeships led the pack with 93 and 94 percent of executives and hiring managers, respectively, saying they’d be more likely to hire someone with this experience.

A Call to Universities

Despite the clear demand for these skills, however, only 33 and 39 percent of executives and hiring managers, respectively, feel like recent grads are actually prepared to apply knowledge and skills learned in the classroom in real-world settings.

To that end, they agree that higher education institutions should make improvements necessary to ensure that college graduates acquire these competencies to support not only entry-level success, but also career advancement.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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