College Graduates Report Feeling Threatened by AI

Roughly half of college graduates feel threatened by artificial intelligence and question their workforce readiness, according to a new survey by the Cengage Group.
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on July 27, 2023
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  • Graduates of both degree and non-degree programs reported anxiety around AI and their workforce preparedness in a new Cengage survey.
  • Roughly 46% of graduates said they felt threatened by AI, and 52% said competition from AI made them question their preparedness for the workforce.
  • That anxiety might fuel a "reskilling boom," the report notes, particularly as employers report relaxing degree requirements for entry-level positions.
  • Graduates also reported feeling more confident about applying to entry-level positions.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is spelling uncertainty for recent graduates, who said in a survey that they worry the rapidly advancing technology is threatening their workforce preparedness.

The Cengage Group's 2023 Employability Report, which surveyed 1,000 recent graduates who finished a degree or non-degree program in the past month, showed anxiety around AI among people heading into the workforce. Roughly 46% of graduates said they felt threatened by AI, and 52% said competition from AI made them question their preparedness for the workforce.

"The workplace has changed rapidly in the last few years, and now we are witnessing a new shift as AI begins to reshape worker productivity, job requirements, hiring habits and even entire industries," Cengage Group CEO Michael Hansen said in a press release.

"With new technology comes both new uncertainties and new opportunities for the workforce, and educators and employers must do more to prepare today's workers for these technological shifts."

The report notes seismic shifts in the job landscape since the onset of the pandemic: The Great Resignation, which saw workers leave their jobs en masse, was followed by the advent of AI and its widespread effects on a slew of industries.

Hansen noted in the release that "no part of the workforce is immune to the changes AI will bring."

"Many workers will need to develop new skills to work alongside new technology or perhaps even find new careers as a result of AI disruption," Hansen said. "As we collectively navigate these changes, we are laser-focused on helping people develop in-demand skills and connect to sustainable employment."

A Cengage report from earlier this year predicted a "Great Retraining" to follow the Great Resignation, with employees who quit their jobs and found new employment largely reporting that they wanted new skills and sought training to increase their employability — but the more recent Cengage report found that graduates felt they were unprepared for the workforce.

Graduates largely said they lacked the skills needed for their first job, marking a stark year-over-year decline: While 63% said their program gave them the required skills for their first job in 2022, just 41% said the same in this year's survey.

Students Report That Many Colleges, Instructors Don't Address AI Tools: BestColleges

AI has had a wide-reaching impact on both private employers and higher education, and about 43% of college students surveyed by BestColleges earlier this year reported using ChatGPT or a similar AI application.

Students expect AI to become standard, with 61% of students surveyed by BestColleges saying that tools like ChatGPT would become the new normal.

Of students who reported using those AI tools, half said they used them to help complete college assignments or exams — accounting for about 22% of all students surveyed by BestColleges. The majority of students said they didn't intend to use or continue using AI to complete their schoolwork.

A little more than half of students agreed that using AI tools like ChatGPT on schoolwork constitutes cheating or plagiarism.

Despite the salience of AI, however, students largely said schools aren't addressing the ever-advancing technology. About 54% of students said their instructors didn't openly discuss the use of AI tools, and 60% of students said their instructors or schools didn't specify how to use AI tools ethically or responsibly.

Many schools are embracing the technology, however: Harvard plans to use AI to help teach a computer science course this fall, and other schools have partnered to analyze the technology's trustworthiness and biases.

The Cengage report recommends that higher education focuses on employability skills to avert students' anxieties about AI and prepare them for a rapidly changing workforce.

"Soft skills continue to be a need among grads — and will only become more important in the future as employers expect 'uniquely human' skills to be more important with the growth of AI," the Cengage report reads.

Anxieties Will Fuel a 'Reskilling Boom'

The report notes that, in addition to shifts in the workforce spurred by AI and the Great Resignation, many states and employers have dropped degree requirements and prioritized skills when hiring.

Maryland became the first state to drop degree requirements for most government jobs in 2022, and other states — as well as private companies — have since followed suit in backing off requiring bachelor's degrees.

Cengage also surveyed 1,000 hiring decision-makers as part of the report and found that employers are more focused on skills-based hiring and dropping degree requirements. Student anxieties around AI and workforce preparedness, coupled with a greater focus on skills-based hiring, will "fuel a reskilling boom," according to the report.

The number of employers reporting degree requirements for entry-level positions declined rapidly from 2022 to 2023, according to the report. While 62% of employers surveyed in 2022 reported a degree requirement for entry-level roles, just 50% reported having such a requirement in 2023.

And despite graduates feeling threatened by AI and lacking skills for their jobs, that decrease in degree requirements may have led to more confidence for graduates applying to entry-level roles. While 49% of graduates said they felt underqualified for entry-level roles in 2022, just 33% said the same in 2023.