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Study emphasizes importance of soft skills for college graduates


Thursday, September 19, 2013

In today's competitive job market, there is little doubt that strong communication and problem-solving skills are among the most important qualities for students to acquire. This was reinforced by the results of a recent study conducted by Northeastern University, which found that a majority of employers and the American public in general believe "soft skills" are essential for today's college graduates.

A broad range of skills
Key findings of the study, which polled a representative sample of 1,000 Americans and 263 business owners and decision makers this past August, suggest that many people believe that college graduates need a broad range of skills, rather than specialized, industry-specific knowledge. Many respondents agreed that pursuing a college degree was a valuable investment in person's future, but many expressed doubts that the American higher education system can adequately prepare graduates for the realities of the workforce.

So-called "soft skills" were seen as particularly valuable. The abilities to problem-solve, think critically and communicate effectively were valued more highly than narrowly focused knowledge of a particular field, and this opinion was widely held among business owners. Experiential learning, the process of acquiring knowledge through firsthand experience, was also seen as highly desirable and important to college graduates.

Shifting attitudes
Although online learning has transformed the landscape of higher education in the U.S., the survey cast doubts on the current state of Web-based college degree programs. Overall, survey respondents expressed declining confidence in the academic merit and learning outcomes of online degree programs, and opinions of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, were divided.

Another key finding of the study indicates that, above all else, the majority of Americans and business leaders polled said they believed a person's level of education was the single most important factor in their likelihood of success in today's job market. In addition, three-quarters of survey participants said they thought earning a college degree was more important for today's youth than it was in their parent's generation. A majority of people polled also believed a college education would be even more important for the next generation of students.

However, it is clear that the education system in the U.S. faces many challenges. Only around one-third of respondents said they felt that colleges and universities were doing a good job of preparing students for the rigors of the workforce, with 62 percent stating they felt the American education system was doing either a "fair" or "poor" job of helping students become career-ready.

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