By Dan Berrett

Americans adults and employers want colleges to produce graduates who can think critically and creatively, and can communicate orally and in writing, according to the results of a public-opinion survey released by Northeastern University here on Tuesday.

Respondents were far less interested in having students receive narrow training and industry-specific skills.

In fact, nearly two-thirds of adults and three-quarters of employers agreed with the following statement: “Being well-rounded with a range of abilities is more important than having industry expertise because job-specific skills can be learned at work.”

The survey results, which were described in the presentation “Innovation Imperative: Enhancing Higher Education Outcomes,” support the conclusions of a poll of employers that the Association of American Colleges and Universities released earlier this year. That poll found broad support for the idea that students should learn to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems, or what the association described as “a 21st-century liberal education.”

Many single data points in the survey could be used as evidence of academe’s failures—or of its indispensability. But Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern’s president, said people should not seize on individual findings in the service of a tidy narrative.

“Don’t focus on only one dimension,” he said at a news conference at which the results were released. “Look at the totality of the survey.”


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