Employers prefer to have employees who have liberal arts degrees. That was the conclusion of a Hart Research Associates study which surveyed 318 employers about their hiring preferences. Of the employers, over 90 percent said that “innovation” was a key aspect of their mission, which means they are searching for employees who can think critically and communicate well. The employers agreed that in order for employees to meet their goals, they need a combination of general knowledge and job-specific skills. These findings affirm the premise that liberal arts education is valuable.
The Hart survey answers critics of liberal arts education. The survey first discovered which skills employers were seeking in new hires. Over 90 percent of employers said “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”
Similarly over nine out of ten employers told Hart that the candidates should demonstrate judgment and integrity, the ability to communicate inter-culturally and the ability to learn new things. The employers felt that colleges should be emphasizing five learning outcomes: written and oral communication, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
To find employees who can perform in those outcomes, employers acknowledged that people needed skills that reach beyond performance of job-specific tasks. Instead, 80 percent of employers preferred that college students acquire broad knowledge in liberal arts and sciences. Seventy-four percent of employers agreed that students should pursue liberal arts studies when the employers were read a description of the typical liberal arts curriculum.
Employers also expressed some dissatisfaction with how prepared students are for the workforce. Although nearly 60 percent believe that institutions of higher education are doing a good job of preparing people for entry level positions, less than 50 percent believed students were prepared for career advancement. Employers suggested that colleges place more emphasis on the five outcomes above.
As for parents and students wondering whether areas outside the classroom are significant factors in hiring and promotion, the Hart survey seems to suggest the answer is yes. More than 70 percent thought that showing an interest in giving back to the community was an important value.
When it comes to closing the gap between knowledge and applying knowledge to real world situations, the employers who were surveyed felt students should continue to explore the world around them. “91% of employers agree that all students should have experiences in college that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.” This is in line with the survey’s findings about being able to communicate, listen, understand and work with people in various cultures.
The Hart survey also gives students some guidelines on skillets they should learn in college and how to demonstrate their knowledge during interviews. Some of the outcomes include:
- Developing research questions in their field
- Completing a project in their chosen field prior to graduation
- Completing an internship or community service project
- Acquiring some hands-on experience in scientific methods
- Working through debates and ethical issues with an ability to form their own opinions.
The complete survey is available online.