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March 27, 2006

Employers Grade Illinois College Grads

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois employers give high marks to the state’s higher education institutions for the preparation of graduates for the workforce, although a 2005 survey of more than 1,000 businesses across the state also found room for improvement.

Overall, two-thirds of employers say that Illinois colleges and universities do an excellent or good job of preparing graduates for the workforce. Nearly 60 percent of the employers in the survey had hired Illinois college grads within the past three years, and 95 percent of those businesses reported satisfaction with the knowledge and skills of their new hires from the state’s colleges and universities.

A report on the employer satisfaction survey will be presented to the Illinois Board of Higher Education at its regular meeting April 4 at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center in Springfield. Board members also will hear from state school Superintendent Randy Dunn, who will speak on efforts to unite elementary-secondary schools with higher education in “P-16” initiatives that span the educational spectrum. In addition, Larry Isaak, President of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), will discuss the organization’s Midwest Student Exchange Program, which offers tuition reciprocity agreements among member states.

The Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University conducted the employer satisfaction survey last fall, and modeled it after a similar one done in 1998. The survey included 1,008 employers from every geographic region and all sizes of companies. When asked to rate how well college grads were prepared for the workforce, 15 percent of employers said “excellent,” 50 percent said “good,” and 21 percent replied “average.” Of the nearly 600 firms that had hired recent grads, 38 percent reported being “very satisfied” with the knowledge and skills of new employees, 57 percent said they were “satisfied,” and just 3 percent indicated they were dissatisfied with their hires just out of college.

Eighty-five percent of employers said higher education was at least “somewhat important” to their ongoing training needs. However, the proportion of employers viewing higher education as “very important” to ongoing education needs dropped from 65 percent in 1998 to 52 percent in the 2005 survey. In-house training is the predominant source of training for all employer groups, with community colleges ranking fifth and four-year colleges and universities seventh in importance.

Overall, 58 percent of employers surveyed found colleges and universities responsive to their needs, but 29 percent reported they had no contact with higher education institutions.

About a third of the employers offered suggestions for improving the relationship between higher education and business and industry, including:

  • Offering specific courses or academic programs;
  • Increasing awareness of what services are available to employers;
  • Giving academic courses more of a “real world” focus;
  • Improving recruiting practices – job fairs, job postings – so businesses are aware of student skills;
  • Strengthening communication about the needs of businesses and the ways colleges and universities can assist them;
  • Providing more internship opportunities.

The Board will act on allocation of fiscal 2006 grants under the Health Services Education Grant Act (HSEGA) program, and will for the first time target extra dollars to nursing programs as a priority area for funding. Public Act 94-193 gave the Board statutory authority to allocate up to 10 percent of appropriations for the HSEGA program to fields of high occupational demand.

A review of employment trends in the health professions revealed that registered nurses continue to be a high-need occupational area. A report of the Illinois Department of Employment Security projects nearly 4,000 annual job openings for registered nurses through 2012, more than double the vacancy rate for the second highest health profession – nursing aides and orderlies.

As a result, the Board will consider approval of a priority grant of $506,673 for nursing programs this fiscal year, about 3 percent of the total $16.6 million HSEGA allocation.


Don Sevener



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