Colleges Owe Students Their Best Chance at a Bright Future (Without the Rose-Colored Glasses)

There’s been a lot of debate lately about the value of higher education as compared to its costs. In fact, PayScale.com puts out an annual ranking on the return on investment for a college education by school. And, the schools that fall to the bottom of that list, in terms of providing a good return on investment for their students, have a lot to say about how an education’s value shouldn’t be quantified in monetary terms. How should it be measured, then? It certainly costs money to attend college, so why shouldn’t students expect some type of monetary return on that investment? It is, in fact, an investment in their future, or so they’re told.

"Even the expensive colleges cost only a fraction of their ultimate payoff,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce in an April 2012 interview with Reuters. “In fact, one could argue that the only choice more expensive than going to college is not going to college."

Sure it is, unless you’re one of the 53 percent of recent college grads who are jobless or underemployed. According to the Associated Press, more and more college grads are being forced to take lower-paying jobs – like waiter/waitress, bartender, receptionist – that don’t utilize their college degree and provide little hope of paying off crippling student loan debts.

And, the likelihood of breaking out of their barista gig and finding something in their chosen field isn’t high in many cases. “Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor's degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade,” the Associated Press reported.

Choice of Major Matters
Of course, all bachelor’s degrees are not created equal, and I believe schools have a responsibility to their students to ensure those differences are, at the very least, understood. I’m not saying that every student needs to major in math or science (though a career in engineering is definitely not a bad way to go). Choosing a job that pays less but means more to you is a valid choice, but it should be a fully informed choice.

Every college should be preparing its student body for the realities of the job market and setting them up for the best chance at success in their chosen field. Sometimes that means questioning that chosen field. I think career counseling should be mandatory for every student at the time they declare their major.

Let’s say you want to study history. What exactly do you want to do with that history degree after graduation? And if you do know exactly what you want to do with that degree (say, be a history teacher, for example), how’s the job market for history teachers? What are the future prospects? I feel like every student should be asked these questions and be forced to really think through their post-graduation career plan before they commit to a major. It’s rough out there for recent grads and too many have a diploma that came with a huge amount of debt and no real job prospects.

I also believe that a college education’s benefits extend beyond its potential impact on your net worth, but let’s get real here. The typical student doesn’t attend college to simply expand their knowledge without a thought as to how their education might impact future career options. And, if they do (without a trust fund to support them), it’s every college’s obligation to provide a wake-up call.

Tell Us What You Think
Keep the discussion on the value of education going on Twitter using hashtag #valueofedu.

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