Often what we think other people think is not what they think. For example, Michael Barnes and I conducted a study some years ago, published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, on the extent to which partners in intimate relationships understood what each other wanted. We computed the correlation between what one partner actually wanted and what the other thought he or she wanted. On a scale of 0 to 1, the correlation was a meager 0.3. In other words, even people in intimate relationships don’t know very well what each other wants.
The stakes for understanding our partner’s wants in an intimate setting are pretty high. Equally high for academe are the stakes for understanding what employers want in college graduates. Students pay many thousands of dollars for a college education in order to prepare themselves for the job market. If the college or university is providing the wrong stuff, that’s a poor investment for the students.
Reading the recent literature in the field of higher education, you might notice that what educators think employers want involves several trends:
1. Employers want students to have college majors that provide them with readily transferable job knowledge and skills. The more professional the major, the better.
2. They want students who have had access to top-quality means of knowledge transfer. In this view, perhaps MOOCs are hot because, in the ideal, the lectures would cost the students (and the colleges) next to nothing and be taught by the most famous scholars in the world.
3. They want students who have demonstrated, through grades and standardized-test scores, that they are high achievers. In addition, employers want evidence of knowledge acquired in college.
The problem is that none of those three assertions holds up well, at least according to two recent surveys of what employers really want, one conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the other by The Chronicle. <Read more.>