Workforce Preparation

How to choose a degree program that will prepare you for a good job

By Melanie Vuynovich on March 28, 2019

According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 58 percent of U.S. adults cite job and career outcomes as their primary motivations for pursuing higher education. So, if you’re considering enrolling in a college program, chances are good that you believe that a degree is the best way to secure a good job and a stable future.

However, employers have doubts about college graduates’ job preparedness; in fact, only 11 percent of business leaders “strongly agree” that graduates have the skills their workplaces need.

Where is this gap coming from? And as a student considering an investment in higher education, how can you ensure that your degree will prepare you for a good job?  

Are traditional colleges teaching the right skills?

According to a 2013 study, 93 percent of employers believe that a job candidate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major. More than 90 percent say new hires need to demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.

But very few colleges teach these skills explicitly or directly. If you browse a college catalog, you’ll see courses in “communication,” “business analytics,” and “ethics” — but these often focus as much on abstract theory as they do on day-to-day workplace applications. As a result, more than three in four employers say they want colleges to place more emphasis on helping students apply knowledge in real-world settings.

Will a traditional degree prepare you for the job you want?

Most four-year degree programs aim to deliver a well-rounded “liberal arts” education, with the idea that this will provide a foundation for the rest of their lives. However, in so doing, they offer very little preparation for actually entering the workforce. They do, however,  prepare students for highly-skilled jobs in some technical fields or for graduate study (e.g., in business, medicine, or law). On the other hand, vocational programs prioritize very specific skills, often at the expense of general knowledge and job flexibility. These programs are notoriously brittle — they do not prepare students to adapt as the world changes.

Neither path, however, gives much thought to preparing students for middle-skills jobs. These roles generally require a two-year associate degree, not a four-year program — and although employees need some role-specific training to be successful, soft skills such as problem solving and communication are more important than any specific technical background. Sixty-nine percent of HR executives say they struggle to fill these roles — which suggests that if you’re looking to expand your job opportunities, your best option might be a flexible “future-proof” associate degree program that focuses primarily on building a solid skills foundation, and then layers on knowledge for one or more middle-skills roles.

The Foundry College Associate Degree in Business Management is one example of a program that follows this progression. Students start by taking courses in critical thinking, communication, problem solving, learning how to learn, and soft skills; following this, they learn general workplace knowledge and skills such as collaboration, negotiation, and software literacy. Finally, each student selects a specific job track — customer service and sales, healthcare administration, or IT systems and service management — and takes focused courses to prepare for a middle-skills job in that field.

So, is a college degree a good investment?

Overall, a college degree can still be an outstanding investment — but not all degrees are created equal. If your goal is a better job, you may want to look for a future-proof associate degree program that:

  • Emphasizes foundational key skills such as communication, critical thinking, and problem solving—skills employers want;
  • Offers opportunities to apply new skills in real-world settings; and
  • Has connections to employers who are hiring new graduates into middle-skills roles.

If a degree program checks all three of those boxes, you’re more likely to graduate with the skills and experience you need to stand out as a strong candidate for a future-proof job.