College students are overly obsessed with picking the right major and would be better served by cultivating general intelligence, said business leaders and prospective employers of college graduates.
Nearly 60 percent of surveyed employers said that students’ critical thinking and communication skills were more important than their major, according to a new survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
The survey gauged attitudes from leaders in the business and nonprofit communities. Most said that job applicants with broad-based skill sets were more desirable than those who were defined by their narrow academic focus.
“I think that as companies downsize, and try and consolidate, and try to become as productive as possible, they’re raising the bar for what the employees who they’re keeping on need to know and be able to do,” said Debra Humphreys, vice president of the AACU, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The survey’s findings cut against a current strain of thinking in higher education policy: that students should be encouraged to choose majors that are traditionally more likely to yield employment: science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the like. Some state governments, including Florida, have suggested raising tuition for liberal arts majors to divert future students toward STEM fields.
“I don’t think the employers are sort of getting that position at all, I don’t think they would think it’s a smart policy choice,” said Humphreys.
While it’s true that students in certain areas of study are more likely to find jobs, getting a good education is more than picking the right major, she suggested.
“I think we are probably all focused a little too much on what is the undergraduate major and what is the hot major and what is the hot field,” said Humphreys. “So in terms of advice for students, becoming a liberally educated and hardworking professional and getting some experience even if in the end you might end up changing fields is probably the better advice.”
Survey respondents voiced some issues with the current higher education landscape, but three out of four were willing to recommend an American liberal arts education to their own children. Humphreys noted that this endorsement is meaningful when compared with the public’s view on the American K-12 education system.
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