That College Degree is Almost Meaningless When It Comes to Job Readiness

college degree poll

In 2014, Gallup did a survey basically asking business leaders and Chief Academic Officers of higher education institution one question:

“Do you believe academic programs are preparing graduates for jobs?” 

Here are the results:

We could probably guess the outcome, right!?

Now, the higher education folks, understandably, get a little worked up over stuff like this. Many in higher ed will say it’s not their job to prepare graduates for jobs in your company, it’s their job to educate students on a specific set of knowledge the student signed up to learn. Those are two very different things.

The bigger question might be: “Should higher education institutions change their focus to better develop students for careers after college?”

You know the results of that question? The exact opposite of what you’ll see above! The main problem business leaders see with higher education institutions is that in most cases they are not properly preparing their graduates for the jobs they’ll be working in. Mainly because, for decades it was up to companies to spend money to train workers, but somewhere along the way, companies decided this should be done by educational institutions.

There isn’t a perfect answer on how to fix this. I do think you’re seeing many institutions of learnings, even four-year traditional colleges, that are changing how they educate students in helping them become ‘job’ ready, instead of ‘career’ ready.

Being ‘job’ ready is the pain point of industry. Being ‘career’ ready is the pain point of students. Which pain point should higher education help to solve? The simple answer is both. Industry is funding much of the growth in higher education through donations, programs, etc. Students are funding the higher education kingdom building through ever increasing tuition fees. Neither side feels like they’re getting their money’s worth.

What we know in the private sector of industry is that if you can find a party who has money but doesn’t feel like they’re being listened to, you have an opportunity to make some money! You see these industries popping up everywhere. Coding camps, non-traditional degree programs, specialty skill training programs, etc.

Jobs that normally would have been filled by college graduates are now being filled by non-college graduates who have invested in other forms of acquiring the skills needed to do the jobs industry is desperate to fill. Corporate talent acquisition will lead this change. You already see fewer and fewer organizations show up on college campuses because those students don’t fit the job requirements the organization needs.

It’s a fundamental argument that higher education truly believes they are on the right side of. The problem is, both their stakeholders don’t share the same view. Long term this is going to change the higher education industry as we know it.

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Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. Micole Kaye says:

    I wrote a piece on this a while back. Colleges fail students in many ways – they teach kids to study and take tests, not think critically or succeed in a variety of corporate cultures and logistical methods. Another way colleges fail students – particularly in the arts – is they teach them how to make the art, but not how to make a living off the art. I really wish they had English classes like “How to get the most of your book deal,” or “How to make a living off of speechwriting,” or even “how to present your skills on a resume and to employers.” I’ve heard that universities fall so behind because it takes 3 years to get a class approved – how can students possibly be ready for a tech-savvy workforce when the classes are based on technology from 3 years ago. It’s painful.

    • Tim Sackett
      Tim Sackett says:


      It’s definitely a real issue. I’m empathetic towards my friends who are professors and teachers because I know they take what they do very seriously, and do a great job at it. Businesses tend to always want more. At some point, it’s up to the individual and to organizations to take on some of this responsibility of teaching as well.

      I do think we’ll see a shift in higher education to begin teaching more reality and less theory. It’s a slow process in higher education, though. These organizations are very wrapped in tradition and getting them to change is really difficult.

      If you listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, you get a feel for some of the real problems in higher education, and their non-profit status.


      • Micole Kaye says:

        Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s the professors. My mom is on the board of a local college and she was explaining the processes required to create a class (she tried to add a Quickbooks class to an accounting program – seemingly harmless, right?). It’s insane. I think the processes are killer, not the professors.

  2. Steve says:

    There’s a third area to consider where there’s a failing: life ready. All the things people no longer in school (not limited to just ‘graduates’) need to know: making a resume, balancing their money accounts, paying taxes, basic investing, and more.

  3. TJD says:

    I think part of the issue is that many schools, not just at the college level, no longer teach or encourage critical thinking. That is a foundational skill that will make anyone both job and career ready.

  4. Dan Perry says:

    At Reverse Tide, we write about this all the time. I’m very sympathetic to universities aiming for a diverse education, as there’s definite benefit to that model. The issue is that when they force kids into a life-altering amount of debt, they are also forcing kids to get a return on investment from it. And then studying liberal arts or even majoring in a career focused discipline and not being job ready is a real kick in the teeth. So they either need to refocus on career training OR lower tuition. But we know they won’t do either. I’m focusing on providing an alternative to current higher education models because it’s really unfair to the kids. Studies like what you quote make this a really easy business model.

  5. Branigan Robertson says:

    While I’m sure to some degree that higher education has always fallen short of preparing young people for the realities of the job market, the problem seems to be growing in our increasingly digital world. Journalism is a prime example — even the pros are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing information and economic landscape. It’s not surprising to me that academia would struggle to keep up.

  6. Vineet Gupta says:

    Even I have wriiten on this sometime back…. its unfortunately true

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