College Students: High in Self-Confidence but Low in Basic Work Skills

Article excerpt

For today's college students facing a tough economy and diminishing prospects the goal of education is earning power, according to a new national study. But employers say some college graduates are not well prepared for the world of work.

Todays college students have been hit hard by the recession, but they exhibit a remarkable self-confidence that may outpace their skills for coping with the road that lies ahead.

This generation has its strengths, but independence and a clear sense of whats expected in the working world are lacking, according to the new book Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Todays College Students, which draws on national surveys and visits to more than 30 campuses around the United States.

Theyre trying to precariously balance between their dreams and hopes for the future and the reality of diminished prospects, says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and co-author with Diane Dean, an education professor at Illinois State University.

They may have trouble coping in a competitive economy because they lack the ability to deal with adversity, or even imagine adversity, Mr. Levine says. Whenever theyve gotten into trouble, their parents have been there to bail them out.

The book offers guidance on how colleges, employers, and parents can do better in their supporting roles.

Sixty-seven percent of undergraduates now say the main benefit of a college education is increased earning power, compared with just 44 percent who said that in 1976.

Thats perhaps not surprising, given how hard the recession has hit: Six of 10 college students say it affected where they chose to enroll. And nearly half of colleges and universities report increases in students living at home or dropping out temporarily for financial reasons.

Many students are majoring in fields that arent their top interest, because they think it will lead to better jobs. For instance, 23 percent planned business majors but only 7 percent said that was the career most of interest. Medicine had a similar gap. Only 6 percent planned to work in the arts, on the other hand, though 11 percent said theyd like to.

People are becoming more practically minded in very directly attaching education goals to career and financial outcomes, says Dennis Craig, vice president for enrollment management at Purchase College, part of the State University of New York.

Despite the tough economy, 89 percent of college students are optimistic about their personal futures.

This confidence may be fueled in part by grade inflation, with 41 percent of undergraduates having average grades of A- or higher, compared with just 7 percent in 1969.

Yet employers say recent graduates often lack basic workplace know-how. …