Are Bachelor’s Degrees Worth It? asks Jeffrey Selingo, author of College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, in the Wall Street Journal.
With unemployment among college graduates at historic highs and outstanding student-loan debt at $1 trillion, the question families should be asking is whether it’s worth borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for a degree from Podunk U. if it’s just a ticket to a barista’s job at Starbucks.
In Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, families can now compare colleges and majors based on the first-year earnings of graduates of in-state schools. First-year salaries are higher for workers with an associate degree in an occupational field than for four-year graduates. ”
In Virginia, graduates with technical degrees from community colleges make $20,000 more in the first year after college than do graduates in several fields who get bachelor’s degrees,” reports Selingo.
Four-year graduates usually earn more over a lifetime than two-year graduates — but only if they actually complete the degree.
“Not all college degrees or college graduates are equal,” warns a Brookings policy brief, Should Everyone Go To College?
While the average return to obtaining a college degree is clearly positive, we emphasize that it is not universally so. For certain schools, majors, occupations, and individuals,
college may not be a smart investment. By telling all young people that they should go to
college no matter what, we are actually doing some of them a disservice.
Going to a highly selective college and majoring in a STEM field lead to high earnings. By contrast, education or arts majors ”in the service sector” earn less than the average high school graduate over a lifetime, according to Brookings. (It’s not clear what “service sector” means.)
Is College Worth It? Consider the alternatives before going into debt advises William J. Bennett, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, and co-author David Wilezol. A four-year degree isn’t necessary for success, Bennett tells U.S. News.
By 2018 there will be 14 million jobs available, well-paying jobs, which will require more than a high school diploma but less than a college diploma, Bennett says. Community college graduates (with a technical certificate or two-year degree) can earn more than four-year graduates.
Community college, trade school or working for a year and thinking about are all alternatives to pursuing a bachelor’s degree, Bennett says.
Put some money in the bank. Join the military is another alternative where you earn great trade skills. We heard from an expert that there are 115,000 janitors in America with B.A.s. It’s fine to be a janitor, but you didn’t have to spend that kind of money to be a janitor.
Parents and students may be surprised at “the large array of options available, other than the B.A., that can give you success and economic success, and not have to make you defer for 10 years getting married and starting a family and buying a house,” says Bennett.
Track graduation rates and default rates for all students — not just full-timers — advises Education Sector in Degrees of Value: Evaluating the Return on the College Investment. In addition, it’s important to take into account whether colleges are enrolling low-income, high-risk students or taking only affluent students. Other suggestions:
First-year earnings matched by College Measures are simply too limiting given that employees’ salaries are often volatile in the years right after college graduation. A more useful dataset would show lifetime earnings, sortable by institution and major, and connect to other government data sources, so policymakers could more easily track the earnings of those who received government aid, such as Pell grants or student loans.
When viewed in isolation, career earnings can be misleading, if for example an institution places most of its graduates in public-service fields. A better consumer information system would give students and policymakers a snapshot of the types of jobs graduates from particular colleges and majors end up taking.
Student satisfaction surveys also would help prospective students evaluate their choices.
Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America has no courses — online or in person. It employs no teachers, just online coaches. Students complete assignments and projects to show their mastery of 120 “competencies,” such as distinguishing fact from opinion or conveying information through charts and graphs, reports the Boston Globe. Students can earn an accredited associate degree, then show potential employers an online portfolio of their work.
Last semester, Ashley Collins often faced a terrible choice: go to her night class, or pick up a waitressing shift to help pay her community college tuition. Class usually lost out.
As a former foster child with no family to help pay for college, the 21-year-old works three jobs while trying to stay in school.
This year, she switched colleges, and now does her schoolwork at home, in her pajamas when she feels like it.
Students move ahead at their own pace, paying $1,250 every six months. Collins is on track to complete a two-year degree in six months. If she’d continued working and taking classes at night, a degree could have taken 10 years, she told the Globe. She earns $9.91 an hour caring for developmentally disabled adults.
College for America started in January with 277 students enrolled through their jobs: groundskeepers, telemarketers, factory workers, gas station employees and caregivers at the nonprofit that employs Collins.
College for America passed a high hurdle in April when the U.S. Education Department agreed to provide financial aid to its students, the first time a program based on competency rather than “seat time” has been approved.
“The federal government is saying, maybe we should be paying for learning rather than time,” said Amy Laitinen, deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation, a prominent think tank. “I don’t want to be too hyperbolic about it, but it really could signal a new era in higher education.”
Southern New Hampshire, a private nonprofit, developed its online curriculum using online resources, including video lectures, readings and web sites, rather than writing its own study materials.
When students submit assignments, graders provide feedback within 48 hours. If it’s not good enough, students are told to try again.
Many of the assignments are practical. One presents students with hypothetical proposals for a vending machine contract for the employee lounge and ask him to write a memo evaluating the vendors. Then, a grader determines whether the students’ work demonstrates they have mastered five competencies, including writing a business memo, using logic, and making calculations in a spreadsheet.
Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s presidents, hopes to offer a bachelor’s degree and enroll 350,000 students by 2018. In addition to working with employers, the college may partner with churches and community organizations to offer support to independent students.
Western Governors University, an online nonprofit created in 1997, offers competency-based, self-paced bachelor’s degree programs.
Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin system also are experimenting with competency-based programs, reports USA Today.
KnowledgeWorks looks at the federal role in competency education, focusing on K-12 schooling.
The best jobs of 2013 — ranked by pay, work environment, stress and job opportunities — start with actuary, biomedical engineer, software engineer and audiologist, according to CareerCast. Dental hygienist, ranked sixth, is the top job that requires only an associate degree. Pay averages $68,250 and demand is growing rapidly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Worst jobs are enlisted military personnel, lumberjack and, bottom of the barrel, newspaper reporter.
Texans who earn a vocational certificate often earn more than associate-degree graduates in their first year in the workforce, concludes Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities Who Are Working in Texas. Some workers with certificates earn more than $70,000 – $30,000 more than the median for graduates with bachelor’s degrees, concludes the Lumina-funded study by College Measures, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group.
The median starting pay for criminal justice/police science certificate holders is $48,192, double the compared with $24,298 for those with an academic associate’s degree. Some health-care certificates allowed graduates to earn $70,000. Other high-paying certificates included: construction engineering technology/technician, electrician, pipefitting, engineering, industrial technology, and instrumentation technician.
However, not all certificates lead to high-paying jobs. Recipients of two dozen certificate programs earned less than $13,000 in their first year on the job. Cosmetologists and nursing/patient care assistants usually earned low wages.
Technical associate’s degrees pay well: The median starting salary is more than $50,000. By contrast, an academic associate degree lead to median earnings of $24,298,
First-year earnings for bachelor’s degree holders range from about $25,000 (biology) to about $47,000 (accounting): The average is $39,725.
Community college graduates’ first-year salaries vary from one college to another.
Academic associate’s degrees range from about $10,000 (Ranger College) to more than $30,000 for graduates from the Trinity Campus of Tarrant County Junior College and from Central Texas Community College.
For graduates with technical degrees, the range is even greater, from about $20,000 for graduates of Clarendon College to more than $65,000 for graduates from seven community colleges: College of the Mainland Community College District, San Jacinto College South Campus, Tarrant County Junior College South Campus, Galveston College, El Centro College, Trinity Valley Community College and Weatherford College.
A national study and analyses in Tennessee and Virginia have found similar results: Technical certificates and associate degrees often pay better than non-technical bachelor’s degrees at the start of graduates’ careers.
Tracking students’ progress through the core curriculum can help community colleges improve success rates for students who hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, suggests a new Community College Research Center report.
About 70 percent of community colleges say they want to transfer to earn a four-year degree. Most never make it.
Researchers analyzed data from community colleges in two states with different transfer policies.
State A requires a 42-credit general education core curriculum. All core courses are transferable, but transfers aren’t guaranteed junior status, even if they’ve earned an associate degree. In State B, a 36-credit core is required and statewide articulation agreements guarantee junior standing for transfer students who’ve earned an associate degree.
Over five years, 29 percent of students at College B completed the 36-unit core; only 12 percent completed the 42-unit core at College A.
After five years, students who completed the core were much more likely to complete a degree compared to those who completed most of the requirements (30-41 credits at College A and 30-35 credits at College B).
For example, while only 8 percent of students who accumulated 30-41 credits at College A earned an award at their community college and/or at the four-year college to which they transferred, 54 percent of students who completed the core did so. The corresponding results for College B are 17 percent (for those who accumulated 30-35 credits) and 70 percent (for those who completed the core).
Encouraging near-completers to earn an associate degree before transferring would boost success rates, the study advises.
Students were most likely to meet social sciences requirements and struggled the most to earn math and science credits.
Whether college pays — in dollars — depends on where you go and what you study. College Risk Report, a web site created by 29-year-old Jared Moore, asks the collegebound to enter their prospective college or university and their major. It estimates how long it would take to pay off a bachelor’s degree and compares that to the payoff for an associate degree at an “average” community college or a high school diploma.
Forbes asked the site to analyze the time needed to pay off loans for an art degree from a small liberal arts college, Marymount Manhattan.
Earning a four-year degree in art would pay less over a lifetime than getting a two-year degree or “simply being an artist right out of high school,” notes Forbes. An engineering degree from a state university has a faster payoff and is worth much more than two-year degree.
To understand military veterans turned students, run a mile in their boots. New Jersey community college officials and high school teachers, counselors and principals volunteered for a week of Marine training, reports Community College Times.
Last year, Warren County Community College (WCCC) in New Jersey launched a program that allows military veterans to earn college credits for their service-related experiences. As with other programs at community colleges serving military veterans and other servicemembers, WCCC’s Veterans In Pursuit of Educational Readiness (VIPER) requires, in part, helping them understand the college environment.
So when an opportunity came for educators to sample what it’s like to be a Marine, Robert Sintich, who created the VIPER program, took the opportunity. He also recruited another college official to join him for the week of training at Parris Island, S.C.—WCCC President Will Austin.
“I have a great deal more respect as to what these recruits go through,” Austin said. “They are being trained to be intelligent warriors. They are being very well educated.”
At Marine Corps Educators Boot Camp, designed is to educate the educators, Austin, Sintich and 75 others woke up at 5 am and trained until early evening.
Marines are always learning, said Sgt. Samuel Nasso, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in New Jersey. “Since day one a Marine is in training to the day the Marine retires, the goal is to strive to be a better Marine and a better individual in all facets of life,” Nasso said.
Austin and Sintich talked to the Marines about VIPER, which lets veterans receive up to 34 credits for their military training, plus up to 11 credits for courses in automotive technology, business, computer science, criminal justice, fire science and food and beverage management. A vet who takes full advantage of the program could earn an associate degree in as little as one semester, then seamlessly transfer to Thomas Edison State College to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Air traffic controllers average more than $100,000 a year — without a bachelor’s degree, reports the Wall Street Journal. Also lucrative: radiation therapist, dental hygienist, nuclear medicine technologist and fashion designer.
What do transfer students want? Matt Reed answers a question from a university staffer who wants to help transfers earn a four-year degree.
First, transfers want to get credit for their credits.
Nothing grinds a student’s gears more than being told she has to re-take a class she has already passed — and paid for — elsewhere. Articulation agreements and transfer blocs are supposed to prevent that, and they help, but the devil is in the details. Frequently a college will proclaim loudly that it takes all credits, but then relegate a bunch of them to “free elective” status. “Free elective” status is where credits go to die. Since very few four-year programs have many “free electives” in them, students wind up having to take (and pay for) far more than they should.
Transfers also want access to scholarships, Reed writes.
Many would appreciate support services to help them handle the transition.
Ten tips for transferring from community college include: Transfer with an associate degree, not just a handful of credits.
Lumina’s 2012 snapshot report shows much higher graduation rates for transfers with an associate degree.
Recent four-year college graduates are struggling in the job market, but it’s a lot worse for job seekers with only a high school diploma or associate degree, concludes a Pew report.
Before the recession, just over half of young adults with a high school degree (HS) were employed, compared to almost two-thirds of those with an associate degree (AA) and nearly three-fourths of those with a bachelor’s degree (BA).
Job losses during the recession made existing employment gaps even worse. The employment declines for those with HS and AA degrees were 16 and 11 percent, respectively, compared with 7 percent for those with a BA degree.
Pew did not find “a sharp increase” in four-year graduates taking low-skill or low-wage jobs — or going to graduate school.