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.
A new for-profit program charges no tuition — until graduates find a job, reports ABC News/Yahoo. App Academy offers an intensive nine-week course in software coding to students in New York City and San Francisco.
“Our goal is to place students as software engineers,” said Kush Patel, one of App Academy’s co-founders. “We don’t care so much if they can do graph theory or algorithms or other obscure kinds of CS topics. We want to give them real-world skills they can use and actually get them a job.”
Students pay nothing till they graduate and find a job. App Academy gets 15 percent of their first year’s salary, an average of $12,000 per graduate. Graduates who aren’t hired within a year pay nothing. So far, 93 percent of App Academy graduates have received job offers, according to Patel. The average starting pay is $83,000.
App Academy accepts less than 10 percent of applicants. Students must be faster learners, excellent problem solvers and willing to work 80 to 90 hours a week in the lab. They don’t need a technical background. “Some of our most successful students in the class have been a yoga instructor and a rug salesman,” Patel said.
Community college officials were urged to commit to “beta-testing” the Voluntary Framework of Accountability at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco. The new measure will be introduced in November. The federal data system tracks only full-time students, who make up a fraction of community college students. The AACC, the Association of Community College Trustees and the College Board are designing the VFA to satisfy demands for accountability and give colleges the information they need to improve, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The VFA aims to measure students’ progress not only in terms of who gets a degree, but, for example, if they pass out of developmental courses, how quickly they earn academic credit, and if they transfer to another institution. Beyond credit-bearing academic programs, the tool will track such data as students’ pass rates for licensure examinations and the employment rates among those who enrolled in adult basic education.
“If you’re going to measure us, measure us by what we do,” said Sandra L. Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, which plans to start using the tool in the fall. Sinclair Community College also intends to sign on, said Laura Mercer, director of research, analytics, and reporting at the Ohio institution.
About 80 colleges are testing the VFA. Pennsylvania adopted it last year to assess its 14 community colleges, and other states may follow suit. But some college officials worry about the cost of collecting data — or what the numbers may show.
For now, the development of the VFA has focused on student progress and outcomes. Its two other components, tracking community colleges’ performance on “work-force, economic, and community development” and on “student-learning outcomes,” are in their early stages. Collecting state wage data and defining learning outcomes have proved difficult, presenters at the meeting said.
The VFA will track the progress of all students in credit-bearing courses, not just those who are seeking a degree, said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, in Pennsylvania, and co-chair of an AACC accountability team. That may depress completion rates, she conceded.
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.
More employers are demanding an associate or bachelor’s degree for jobs that didn’t used to require higher education, reports CBS Money Watch.
Eighteen percent of hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they’d raised their education requirements. More than half of employers require some college and 44 percent demand a bachelor’s degree.
The value of a college degree “varies dramatically based on the price of education, the student’s major, how long it takes to progress through school and whether the student borrowed to finance a degree,” notes Money Watch.
Thirty-two percent of hiring managers said they’re now hiring college graduates for jobs that previously went to high school graduates. The trend is particularly acute in the financial services and health care professions, according to the survey.
. . . CareerBuilder’s survey also found that employers were better satisfied with their increasingly educated workforce, saying the college graduates were more productive and provided a higher quality of work.
College graduates are taking lower-skilled jobs, “pushing unskilled workers out of the labor force altogether,” writes Megan McArdle on the Daily Beast. She cites a paper by Paul Beaudry, David Green, and Benjamin Sand, which argues that job demands rose till 2000 and are now falling.
If they’re right about the “de-skilling” of jobs, it’s “ferociously depressing news,” writes McArdle.
It suggests that we’re pushing more and more people into (more and more expensive) college programs, even as the number of jobs in which they can use those skills has declined. A growing number of students may be in a credentialling arms race to gain access to routine service jobs. Or maybe the productivity of our nation’s wait staff is spiking as more skilled workers flood into these jobs.
Some 284,000 college graduates were working in minimum-wage jobs last year, reports the Huffington Post.
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.
“College for all” has become a curse, writes linguist John McWhorter in the New York Daily News. Young people are told the only way to a middle class life is a four-year degree, but vocational training also can lead to the American Dream, he writes.
There is nothing ignoble about finishing high school, spending a year learning how to fix heaters and air conditioners and going off to ply a trade and make a good living (i.e.. the one we know plumbers make when we pay their fees).
. . . Did the guy who installed your cable-TV service have a college degree? How many sound technicians, mechanics or building inspectors spent four years on a college campus? How about the person who did your ultrasound?
Complaining of a maze of federally funded job training programs, House Republicans have introduced the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act to consolidate 35 federal employment and training programs into a single $6 billion Workforce Investment Fund.
In a fast-moving economy, spiders are showing colleges where the jobs, so they can target job training, writes the Hechinger Report. Artificial-intelligence spiders “crawl through search engines” to read online “help wanted” ads daily. Colleges can update — or eliminate — job programs quickly.
Federal labor data can be two years out of date or more, said John Dorrer, a program director at Jobs for the Future. Without current information, “We’re training people for jobs that don’t exist, and not training people for jobs that do.”
Based on real-time labor-market information, the Lone Star College System in Texas will close three programs next fall, in aviation management, hospitality management and computer support. It found that employers prefer four-year to two-year degrees in the first two cases, and were outsourcing work in the third. But it is adding programs to train oil and gas drillers and CT-scan technicians, for which there is burgeoning demand.
. . . Cabrillo College in California thought its program in medical assisting was doing well—until spidering technology showed there wasn’t much hiring going on in the field, and a survey of graduates confirmed that fewer than 30 percent had jobs in it. So the college raised the program’s standards to a level employers told them they needed.
Archana Mani took time out of the workforce to raise her children and discovered her master’s in information systems wasn’t enough to qualify for a job. She enrolled in Oakland Community College near Detroit, which was offering an accelerated course to train programmers to build and test new software applications. Once spiders told the college about the demand, it took only three months to create the course. Mani completed the program and was hired by a quickly expanding branch of Hewlett-Packard in Pontiac, Mich.
China has quadrupled the number of community college and university graduates in the last decade, but many are unemployed or underemployed because they refuse to take low-status factory jobs, reports the New York Times. In the U.S., employment rises with education. In Chinese cities, young college graduates are four times as likely to be unemployed as those with an elementary education, according to a survey by a Chinese university.
In Guangzhou, “factories make everything from T-shirts and shoes to auto parts, tablet computers and solar panels,” reports the Times. Wages, benefits and living conditions have improved dramatically, but many factories are “desperate for workers.”
Wang Zengsong is desperate for a steady job. He has been unemployed for most of the three years since he graduated from a community college here after growing up on a rice farm. Mr. Wang, 25, has worked only several months at a time in low-paying jobs, once as a shopping mall guard, another time as a restaurant waiter and most recently as an office building security guard.
But he will not consider applying for a full-time factory job because Mr. Wang, as a college graduate, thinks that is beneath him. Instead, he searches every day for an office job, which would initially pay as little as a third of factory wages.
The one-child policy means many young graduates can count on the support of their two parents and four grandparents.
As in the U.S., factories in China are having trouble finding workers who can operate and maintain complex equipment. Yet vocational students are outnumberedctwo to one by students in academic classes.
As student debt mounts, colleges and universities face pressure to disclose their graduates’ earnings, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.
Joyce English was about to start studying toward an associate degree she hoped would lead to a job as a consultant to healthcare companies around Tacoma, Wash., where she lives.
Then she discovered a database created by the state’s workforce training agency estimating what she’d earn with that degree versus how much she could make in other jobs with other majors and degrees from colleges and universities across the state.
. . . “You obviously want something out of your education,” says English, who changed her mind and is now majoring in what she learned is the more lucrative field of business management at Pierce College. “You don’t want to go into something that’s going to pay you less than it cost to go to college.”
Washington, Florida Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia have released wage information by major, degree and institutution. Colorado, Nevada and Texas will do so soon. Congress is considering a bill that would require every college to disclose the average annual earnings of its graduates.
“I can imagine some hard questions being asked” by parents, students and legislators armed with knowledge like this, says Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research and president of College Measures, which is helping states create such earnings databases.
. . . nearly 90 percent of incoming freshmen say the main reason they enrolled in college was “to be able to get a better job,” UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute reports. “And probably 100 percent of their parents say that,” says Schneider.
“It’s the no-name comprehensives, the regional campuses, the third-tier not-for-profits—their business model is going to be held up and people are going to ask about it,” Schneider says. “ ‘Why are you charging me $40,000 a year? What’s the outcome at the end of the day? What am I getting for all this time and money?’ ”
Higher-education leaders worry students will shun the liberal arts in favor more lucrative majors.
“Follow your passion” should be the message, not “show me the money,” says Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Your college decision should be about becoming an educated person—giving yourself a resource that will increase in value your entire life, finding something you care deeply about, and developing the skills to go on learning what you need to learn.”