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A large majority of the American public and nearly three-quarters of business leaders say it is more important for job candidates to be well-rounded with a range of abilities than to have industry-specific skills, two new national surveys released Tuesday show.

A July survey of 263 hiring managers and an August poll of 1,000 American adults conducted by FTI Consulting on behalf of Northeastern University show that majorities of the public and business leaders value broadly applicable skills like written communication and problem-solving over specific skills obtained through applied training.

Still, the poll found that Americans overwhelmingly want colleges and universities to focus on integrating practical experience, such as internships, into their curriculums. In large numbers, both business leaders and the general public agreed that students with internship and other work-related experience tend to be more successful in their careers.

On broader questions about the state of U.S. higher education, respondents to the poll affirmed the value of higher education but 62 percent said that the current system is doing only a fair or poor job of preparing college graduates for the work force.

Eighty-seven percent of the American public and 83 percent of business leaders said that U.S. higher education needs to change in order to remain competitive with other countries.

The quality of one major change in higher education over the past couple of decades -- the rise of online programs -- has been met with some skepticism, the poll and survey revealed.

A declining proportion of the American public -- 41 percent, down from 49 percent last year -- said that online education provides “similar quality” compared with traditional colleges and universities.

Business leaders shared that concern about the disparity in quality. But about half of both groups said they expected online programs to become just as accepted as traditional credentials among employers within the next five to seven years. Adults aged 30 to 39 were the most optimistic about the future value of online education, and adults over 60 were the least likely to agree that online programs would be viewed on par with traditional education, the survey found.  

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