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College students: high in self-confidence but low in basic work skills

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Many students are majoring in fields that aren’t their top interest, because they think it will lead to better jobs. For instance, 23 percent planned business majors but only 7 percent said that was the career most of interest. Medicine had a similar gap. Only 6 percent planned to work in the arts, on the other hand, though 11 percent said they’d like to.

“People are becoming more practically minded in very directly attaching education goals to career and financial outcomes,” says Dennis Craig, vice president for enrollment management at Purchase College, part of the State University of New York.

Despite the tough economy, 89 percent of college students are optimistic about their personal futures.

This confidence may be fueled in part by grade inflation, with 41 percent of undergraduates having average grades of A- or higher, compared with just 7 percent in 1969.

Yet employers say recent graduates often lack basic workplace know-how. Mr. Levine has heard from employers about new hires who e-mail the boss to announce they are working from home because the weather is nice, or who ask for a raise after just a week.

“Employers need to do extended orientations, make rules explicit … and give frequent, candid feedback,” he says.

Students, on the other hand, need to learn how to be more independent and innovative, Levine says. And that means parents need to let them start taking appropriate risks earlier in life. 

The book shows that so-called “helicopter parenting” is pronounced. Twenty-seven percent of undergraduates say they’ve asked their parents to intervene in problems with professors or employers. Seventy-six percent of colleges and universities report increases in parent involvement and intervention.

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