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The Value of a College Degree

Graph for the Expected Benefit of a College DegreeAs record numbers of students apply to college who’re seeking a “good paying job” is that diluting the earning value of a college degree, since more job-seekers enter the market as college graduates?    58% of all parents and students, who responded to the Princeton Review’s recent College Hopes & Worries survey, reported the biggest benefit of a college degree is job training and higher wages.    If there’s inflation in the value of a college degree, will these 58% of students find what they seek, no matter the “name brand” and reputation of their future college alma mater?

Secondly, if students expect to learn the knowledge and skills necessary for employment after college, is the college equipped to help with that goal?  Colleges have traditionally been valued as knowledge builders from their professors’ research activities.  This mission can compete with professors’ teaching duties, so students (who’s tuition is also supporting the research) must be assertive in assuring they’re gaining the knowledge they need to be successful earners in the future.

Lastly, major selection is also important to consider, so students can be reasonably assured their knowledge will be marketable after college graduation.  Advisers on a college campus to assist students in the process to choose majors, as well as find jobs after graduation will also be key to finding the job earnings value students seek in a college diploma.

Graph courtesy of Princeton Review

5 Comments on “The Value of a College Degree

  1. I think Seniors in high school go on to college, either Junior College or University, because it is the next “thing” to do after graduation. The “in limbo” stage, as he/she unscramble what was learned or not in the last four years of formal schooling. Some see it as a way to “properly” leave the nest (parents’ house) and explore who they are without really saying, “I’m tired of living under your rules and being watched or manipulated, I want to get as far away from here, but really not cut the safety net.”

    Once you are in college and attending classes how can you gain a professor’s attention when you are one of 100+ students in a lecture, unless you have the personality of being confident, out-going, forthright, aggressive, but not pushy all enmeshed together? Yes, those are the one’s who value the college degree. And will get the most bang for their buck. But they are the few and far between, the one to two standard deviations from the top of the bell curve.

    Most go to not disappoint the parents, or are/will be the first in their family to attend college, or are just not mature enough to face moving out and getting a job and standing on one’s own two feet. I was a college transfer student with this mindset, so I think I’m not far off to believe an 18-year old has this mindset and therefore, the value of a degree is diminished. How many people who have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree are actually working in their field of study? College did not prepare me for the “real” world in my field of study, what it did provide me was a pseudo sense of independence, mismanagement/management of time, social skills, cause and effect (with little understanding or wiggle room that something I did as a Freshman may come back and bite me in the butt my Senior year), manipulation, and experimentation. I have since further developed these skills after graduating college. They did not give out Bachelor Degrees in “Lessons Learned”. So my parents spent a lot of money, at that time (1990-92) for me to learn those lessons that I would have gotten eventually without having to attend college.

    The reasons are many therefore, like in anything in life, when there is
    surplus, the value of that product tends to go down. Why should a college degree be any different?

    1. As Cheryl points out, the value of a college experience depends on the student and changes over time. What seemed sensible at 18 or 20 may not seem sensible at 40. Earning power of a degree is only one measure of value. Cheryl’s “Lessons Learned” may be the lasting value of her college degree.

      Second, colleges have a varied mission–building new knowledge through research, sharing that knowledge with students through teaching and training the next generation of workers. How a particular college achieves and balances these sometimes at odds aims can also influence the value of a college degree.

      Lastly, the hubris of youth can overshadow the wisdom earned by experience of our parents and mentors. I often hear parents say, “My kid just wants to get away from home, but I’m worried s/he’s not going to get a job after college graduation.” These seemingly competing views of college can create conflict during the college admissions process. Yet, are essential to air in a discussion (sometimes heated discussions) in order for students to find the valuable college campus they and their parents have invested18 years of effort to uncover.

    2. To attend, or not attend college is a complex decision that takes a life time to make–a decision that is questioned again and again long after it is made. Cheryl’s comment/story only validates this idea. With college tuition continuing to outpace overall inflation year in and year out, the question of defining value when deciding to attend/not attend college, or even finish for that matter, may need to rise in importance in the future.

  2. The value in a college degree isn’t found by aspiring to find the greatest “brand name” campus for a student’s qualifications at the most discounted price. In a culture, Paco Underhill, an environmental psychologist, describes as “…an aspirational population obsessed with getting things at a discount” (Newsweek, 4/16/2012), approaching college admissions, like a sale, at Bloomingdale’s is not going to satisfy student’s goals to find value in their college experience.

    1. Maybe, but peer pressure has, and most likely will continue to play a part in complex decision making; especially, when those decisions influence so many, for so long into the future.

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