A new survey titled “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) reveals significant disparities between the perceptions of students and employers related to readiness for future careers and the importance of diversity and intercultural learning outcomes. The survey sample includes 613 students at private and public two and four year institutions and 400 CEO’s and executives from private or non-profit organizations.
One of the most surprising metrics is that less than two in five employers rated the following learning outcomes as very important:
Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the U.S. 37%
Staying current on global developments and trends 25%
Awareness of and experience with cultures and societies outside of the United States 23%
Proficiency in a language other than English 23%
Despite the lack of emphasis by employers on these diversity and democratic learning outcomes, employers rated students as less prepared in these areas than the students did themselves:
Employer Rating//Student Rating
Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the U.S. 25% //48%
Staying current on global developments and trends 16% //34%
Awareness of and experience with cultures and societies outside of the United States 15% //42%
Proficiency in a language other than English 16% //34%
Only 21 percent of employers strongly agreed that all college students should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies outside the U.S., while 57 percent agreed somewhat. By contrast, 87 percent of students felt that such skills were important. A similar gap was found between employer and student perceptions of the knowledge students should have of democratic institutions and preparation for citizenship in a democratic society.
The lack of emphasis on intercultural understanding by employers is striking, given the fact that in the U.S. alone there are more than 20,000 multinational companies, that exceed the number of companies in the Fortune 1,000 or the Fortune 5,000. And the average U.S. based multinational company generates roughly 45 percent of their revenue from countries outside the U.S. The boundary between local and global has become blurred, as most companies compete in a global marketplace.
The survey also reveals that students agree with employers on the value of cross-cutting skills of teamwork, communication, critical thinking, ethical decision-making and applying knowledge in real-world settings as learning outcomes. Ironically, however, in a global society and even within the United States all of these components demand a high level of cultural competency, a recognition of cultural pluralism, and the ability to communicate effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Perhaps the employers’ perspectives could be viewed as what Derald Wing Sue calls “ethnocentric monoculturalism,” a Eurocentric focus that fails to recognize the importance of connections and communication in a multicultural society and global economic environment. Instead, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter indicates, the reality is that companies need to thrive locally in a global economy by creating new world-class mindsets that embody globally relevant skills.
While employers in the AACU survey endorsed an applied learning emphasis in higher education, they also appeared not to acknowledge the importance of intercultural skills and competence as part of what is needed in an applied learning focus. If we are indeed living in what Fareed Zakaria calls “the rise of the rest” in a post-American world defined and directed by people from many locations our educational systems, in turn, must be finely tuned to the development of the applied cultural competency needed for college graduates to thrive in this new, global millennium. As he writes:
Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don’t want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.