What Is the Value of a College Degree Today?

college degree Karan Powell‘Tis the season for traditional colleges to begin their fall terms. Students across the country and around the world will begin college for the first time. Some will be returning for yet another time, hoping to complete a program of study or degree after time away or following prior, incomplete attempts for personal and/or professional reasons. This consideration notwithstanding, the question remains among those deciding whether or not to attend college: What is the value of a college degree today? In this post and the subsequent one, I will further explore and pose an answer to this question.

Despite the rising tuition and fees and skyrocketing student debt, a college education is still seen by many as the key to career success; otherwise, why would they keep showing up? At the same time, the media continues to document the rising costs of education and questionable job prospects for recent grads, raising questions about whether or not college is the right path. So how important is a college degree today to individuals, employers, and our society? Countless studies affirm the continuing, if not increasing, importance.

For example, a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center notes that “college graduates outpace those with less education on every measure of job satisfaction and success.” According to the study, 91% of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher say that their degree has paid off for them or expect it will do so in the future. Furthermore, those with a graduate or professional degree are most likely to say their education was “very useful” in preparing them for the workforce. And when students look to their future, the survey found that 63% of millennial graduates are confident in their education and training to advance in their current career.

Secondly, employers are putting more value on a college degree than ever before, as companies are steadily raising their educational requirements for new hires. Why? A recent article in the Deloitte Review (July 2017) discusses the changing work environment and three major current and future impacts: changing demographics, emerging technology, and the “power of pull,” defined as “empowered customers amidst the global talent market.”

Why is a college education important for both today and the future? A skilled workforce is needed more than ever and constant worker reskilling is as critical. A 2015 Chicago Tribune story cites a CareerBuilder survey that found one-third of employers say they have increased their educational requirements over the past five years. When asked why, 60% of the employers said skills for many positions have evolved, requiring more highly educated workers.

Clearly, obtaining a post-secondary degree is more important now than ever before. The research cited above and countless other studies demonstrate that a college degree remains a valuable investment and in general, the high price pays off. According to the Economic Letter, in 2011, college graduates were earning on average about $20,000 more per year than high school graduates. So why has the value of a college degree increasingly been called into question? For one, the increasing debt accrued in order to earn a degree is becoming too concerning to ignore.

However, a 2014 article in CNN Money notes that for young professionals, there isn’t much of a choice. The article explains that the fate of workers with less than a college degree is deteriorating faster than that of their college-educated peers, forcing young adults to choose between paying the high price to go to college, or earning far less over a lifetime and facing a greater likelihood of unemployment. In a trade-off, college still wins. Parents, students, employers and government alike all seem to agree that colleges and universities should do a better job of keeping tuition low without cutting quality. In my next post, we address potential solutions.

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