Employers Say Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving Skills Matter More Than Major

New survey affirms value of liberal arts as preparation for professional success

April 10, 2013 by John Hopkins

WOOSTER, Ohio, April 10, 2013 – Ninety-three percent of employers say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” is more important than an undergraduate’s major when deciding whom to hire, according to the results of a new national survey. Three quarters say they would recommend a liberal education to a young person they know in order to prepare for long-term professional success in today’s global economy.

The survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), gathered insights from more than 300 business and nonprofit leaders around the country. The results were released today in Washington, D.C.

Other key findings

  • 80% of employers agree that every college student, regardless of major, should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.
  • 95% say that they prioritize hiring college graduates with skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace.
  • 95% say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.

LEAP Employer-Educator Compact

AAC&U also announced that more than 100 business and nonprofit leaders and more than 100 college presidents have signed the LEAP Employer-Educator Compact, reaffirming the value of a liberal education as the best preparation for success in a fast-changing, global economy, and pledging to work together to ensure that all college students have access to such an education that fully prepares them for work, life, and citizenship. LEAP – Liberal Education and America’s Promise – is AAC&U’s national advocacy and research initiative to champion liberal education.

“Today, and in the years to come, college graduates need strong intellectual and practical skills in order to navigate a demanding economic environment and a complex global community,” said Grant Cornwell, president of The College of Wooster and part of AAC&U’s leadership group for this effort. “Liberal education is the path to those skills.”

Wooster Grads, Business Leaders

Eight of the business leaders who signed the compact have strong connections to The College of Wooster, either as alumni, parents of Wooster students, or members of the college’s board of trustees. They are:

  • Donald Allman ’74, president and CEO of Titan Worldwide;
  • Douglas Brush ’77, chairman of the board of Sentry Safe Co.;
  • Stanley C. Gault ’48, former CEO of Rubbermaid Inc. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.;
  • Clifford Hudson, chairman and CEO of Sonic Corp.;
  • Julia Klein '83, chairwoman and CEO of C.H. Briggs Co.;
  • Richard Seaman, chairman and CEO of Seaman Corp.;
  • Timothy Smucker ’67, chairman of The J.M. Smucker Co.; and
  • S. Robson Walton, chairman of Walmart Stores, Inc.

"I was a history major at Wooster and had planned to become an attorney," Allman said. "Today I am CEO of an outdoor advertising sales company, a far cry from my goals as a 22-year-old. Wooster and a liberal arts education prepared me well."

Klein, a political science major at Wooster, leads one of the largest independently owned distributors of speciality building materials on the east coast. "When I look back at the kind of success I've been lucky enough to have in business, I can trace it directly back to my Wooster education," she said. "The way I think about things, my curiosity, my imagination, the kind of questions I ask, those are abilities, skills, traits that you don't get in business school. That comes from a great liberal arts education."

Gault, a veteran of the Army Air Forces in the South Pacific during World War II, joined General Electric in 1948 after graduating from Wooster with a bachelor's degree in geology. He held many key executive positions at G.E. before joining Rubbermaid in 1980. He served as chairman of the board and CEO of two great American corporations, Rubbermaid and Goodyear, chairman of a third, Avon, and chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers. He is chairman emeritus of Wooster’s board of trustees.

“It has been my privilege to work with many talented, dedicated, hard-working individuals,” Gault said. “I have found that those with an undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences are able to think creatively, analyze and solve complex problems, communicate clearly, and respond nimbly to changing circumstances and new opportunities.”

Smucker stressed the intercultural skills he gained while earning an economics degree. “I think a liberal arts education in general, and mine in particular, provided a broad perspective and appreciation and compassion for other disciplines and cultures,” he said. “It provided the background necessary to develop leadership skills that encompass a sensitive and mindful approach to others’ interests, capabilities, and desires.”

The College of Wooster is America’s premier college for mentored undergraduate research. By working one-on-one with a faculty adviser to conceive, organize, and complete an original research project, written work, performance or art exhibit, every Wooster student develops independent judgment, analytical ability, creativity, project-management and time-management skills, and strong written and oral communication skills. Founded in 1866, the college enrolls approximately 2,000 students.