Why some college grads aren’t employable

Some college graduates aren’t prepared for work, recruiters tell Jeff Selingo. The top students at nearly any college and most students at top colleges are worth interviewing. But a surprising number of applicants “clearly were not ready to go to college in the first place, yet possess a degree.”

“The focus on access and completion has come at a real cost,” one recruiter told me (he didn’t want his company identified because he’s not allowed to speak on its behalf). “We’re encouraging students to go to college who should be considering other options, and then we’re pushing them through once there.”

In the past, college graduates have fared much better than less-educated workers. That may change for average graduates of average colleges with not-very-rigorous degrees. And that’s a large group.

Many graduates write poorly. “It’s clear they’re not learning basic grammar, usage, and style in K-12,” recruiters say.

While many graduates are hard workers, others skated by in college.

The recruiters complained about professors who clearly gave grades that were not deserved, allowed assignments to be skipped, and simply didn’t demand much from their students.

In addition, many young workers feel entitled to a job, recruiters say. They blame “parents obsessed with their kids’ happiness.”

Many employers have cut training and mentoring to save money, the recruiters admit. Employers want to hire well-educated people who are ready to work with minimal support.


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  1. Walter E Wallis says:

    A high school graduate should have everything needed to enter the commercial world and work effectively. Advanced education is indicated only for those with specific career choices that need that advanced education. College attendance by those ill prepared or uninterested just wastes money and productive time.

    • You’re absolutely correct, of course, but that won’t stop the politicians and educrats from pushing the “college for all” fallacy.

      • Vocational education was destroyed and the idea of “college for all” born in response to certain unpalatable demographic realities.

        It is clear, that 30+ years of tinkering and meddling has done nothing more than make our education system worse. I suggest that all national and state educational practices, codes, laws, and regulations be returned to the status quo as of September 1979,

    • Mark Roulo says:

      A high school graduate should have everything needed to enter the commercial world and work effectively.


      But many don’t and adding another level of hurdles to try to separate the wheat from the chaff is a rational response for companies (especially as the cost is borne by the students/applicants).

      A high school diploma doesn’t signal much, and it is expensive/illegal for companies to provide detailed employment tests. It is totally legal, however, for colleges to screen based on IQ, so the college degree signals *something*. Depending on the major, it might even signal more than just IQ (e.g. diligence, willingness to work hard, …).

      When companies can legally figure out during application what they want to know, we *might* see the requirement for college graduates dialed back. But until then, I don’t see how to replace the information that companies get from the college piece of paper.

  2. Most high school graduates before the era of Plyler vs. Doe (1982) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plyler_v._Doe who did manage to graduate did have the ability to handle basic math, reading and writing skills, and knew what the concept of showing up to work on time, and being able to follow instructions meant.

    Many companies hiring entry level workers have long complained of the lack of basic skills which plague many high school and college graduates. Perhaps the reason why students are awarded degrees without this knowledge is that perhaps they were never required to actually master the skills before being promoted to the next grade or class.

    These days, a high school diploma only shows (in my opinion) that a person was rewarded for attending school (which is required by law), rather than actually learning something (which isn’t required by law).

    I also agree with the poster who mentioned vocational education, due to the fact I attended high school at a time when such coursework was offered. The standards have been lowered for persons attending K-12 these days, that’s for sure.