Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | ePaper

Is it really worth getting a degree?

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Aubrey Pohl :
Wondering whether it's really worth it to get a degree?  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education's 2015 report, "The Value Equation: Measuring & Communicating the Return on Investment of a College Degree," the answer is a resounding "yes." In fact, people with college degrees earn a whopping 80 percent more than their high school graduate peers during their careers. This amounts to $500,000 over a lifetime! But is it still worth it when you acknowledge the massive debt incurred by many students in pursuit of these degrees?  Let's take a closer look.
Wage Premium = Surging Enrollments
The ever-increasing wage premium has led to skyrocketing enrollments, with the number of undergraduate students rising by more than a third since the beginning of the millennium.
This has corresponded with a spike in academic programs: there are 20 percent more majors today than there were 15 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Tuition Woes
Unfortunately, increasing demand has also led to tuition hikes leading some people to wonder whether the high cost of an undergraduate degree is worth it. U.S. President Obama himself decreed that "skyrocketing costs price too many young people out of a higher education or saddle them with unsustainable debt." His goal? To enable students and families to understand the value of what they're paying for in order to maximize their education dollars.
Measuring Outcomes
In the face of pushback against the high cost of degrees along with the call for accountability, college leaders counter that the advantages of a college degree can't be measured entirely by employment rates or compensation. Their argument?
Less tangible factors also contribute, including everything from enhanced civic engagement to better health. Today's colleges don't view themselves as the mere means to a job, but instead as responsible for imbuing students with foundational skills, a love of lifelong learning, and professional goals. While the government continues to prioritize employment outcomes in measuring college success, a paltry 34 percent of college administrators believe career and salary outcomes should be public.
Another important note? With the competition for jobs for new grads higher than ever before, survey respondents cited an unexpected element as the key to landing a job: internships.
While major and coursework do matter to a degree, those looking for an inside edge will find it in an internship. This also explains why so many colleges are offering enhanced career counseling to help students find internships, participate in alumni mentoring, develop professional plans, and ultimately improve their marketability.
All things considered, 80 percent of college leaders believe that their institutions provide "very good" or "excellent" value for the cost, but is this vote of confidence enough? Not to mention that even as they reject job outcomes as a primary consideration when determining post-college success, these same administrators are opting to build out their career services offerings in the years ahead. The takeaway? Thanks to the buy-in of both government official and college leaders -- albeit through different approaches -- ROI on college degrees will become increasingly transparent in the years ahead.
(Aubrey is an educational consultant who has written many articles, speeches, and journalistic pieces. Graduated from Harvard with a degree in Psychology, she has been working within the academic field for the past 10 years. Aubrey is a traveler and also loves writing about travel tips around the world).

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