For years, polling data has shown that Americans hold the U.S. Congress in low esteem, with the Members' approval often sinking into the teens. So guess which American institution is on course to join them? It's our colleges and universities. Congress at least admits it's doing a poor job. The colleges don't.

This surprising result emerged this week in a news report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which noted the vast disconnect in two recent surveys on the value colleges are providing:

"The survey, conducted by Gallup in partnership with the Lumina Foundation, indicates that just 11% of business leaders 'strongly agree' that today's graduates have the skills and competencies that their businesses need. In contrast, a recent Gallup survey found that 96% of college and university chief academic officers said they were 'extremely or somewhat confident' in their institution's ability to prepare students for work-force success."

As the famous movie line put it, what we seem to have here is a failure to communicate.

The Gallup-Lumina survey revealed that 88% of business leaders would like to have more collaboration with the schools, presumably to help improve the mismatch between knowledge learned and skills needed.

Among the general population, the survey found a remarkable amount of common sense. Some 95% think one needs a certificate or degree beyond high school, and 75% know employers are looking at the actual skills a college degree confers. These people understand the realities of the new American workplace. Whether welding materials or writing code, one needs higher skills. Asked if higher education institutions need to change to meet these needs, 89% said yes.

We're going to guess that most U.S. college administrators aren't as oblivious as that 96% we're-doing-fine figure suggests. But they do have something in common with government: Many have become terrible bureaucracies and hard to change.

A staple of speeches on the American future is that the U.S. higher-ed system is still the world's greatest. That may be true. But it's time for these institutions to recognize they are getting a wake-up call from the world beyond the ivy-covered walls.