Disavowing the career benefits of a college degree has become somewhat trendy in our public discourse. It’s true that college isn’t for everyone, and we still have a very long way to go in making higher education accessible to all who wish to pursue it. Yet claims that the financial investment in a college education ‘isn’t worth it’ are not supported by research and data that continue to find again and again that individuals with college degrees have significantly higher lifetime earnings, and also fare far better during times of financial recession, than individuals with only a high school diploma.
Recent data from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave has found that 36% of young adults feel that the student debt they took on wasn’t worth it. The average 2017 graduate carries student loans of $28,650, but will earn $964,000 more over their lifetime than a counterpart with only a high school diploma. For even those students burdened with a larger amount of student debt, from a financial standpoint, the investment in education still clearly pays off.
But what does this perception that college isn’t worth the investment mean? There is no doubt that, though it will pay-off, a college education is still a massive investment, and it seems to just keep getting bigger and bigger -- after all, the price of college has been increasing nearly 8 times faster than wages. Students and their families, now more than ever, want to feel confident that their investment in education will provide a positive return. It is up to the school to build this confidence by demonstrating the institution’s commitment to the career preparation of its students. Career must become part of the student journey, from admissions through alumni relations. Building transparency into student outcome data is another vital way to build confidence in your institution, and will have positive ripple effects as future students are inspired by the pathways of their predecessors. While a college education is also much more, most graduates saddled with debt are going to decide whether their education was worth the investment based on how well they feel the institution prepared them for a successful career. Schools concerned with enrollment, retention, and reputation must work to integrate career learning and data into the campus culture so that all students will know and feel that their education was worth the investment.
To see how one institution is bringing visibility and transparency to their career services and outcome data, visit https://careers.college.indiana.edu/