Yes – a College Degree Is Worth It

Worth It? Worthless? Worth Less?  All three questions need answered as you make decisions about your future. These questions are important because confusion aboundsBuzz Today Source: Chronicle of Higher Education   “As of April, 2014, the unemployment rate for college graduates ages 25 to 34 was 3 percent. The wage premium for people with bachelor’s degrees has been rising steadily since 1980 and now stands at 98%* …With regard to student debt, only 2% of students owe more than $100,000 while 43% of student borrowers owe $10,000 or less. College is not only still a good investment, it is the best investment you can make”.  *This means that bachelor’s degree holders have nearly twice the income of high school graduates.

The data in Buzz Today unambiguously answers the first question: Worth It? If you want to have a better chance to get hired and earn twice the income get a bachelor’s degree. The data show that people with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to get a job and, when employed, make almost twice as much on average as those with only a high school diploma. Does this data mean that you will be guaranteed a job making twice as much as you would  have made without the bachelor’s degree?  No. There are no guarantees in life. A college education is no exception.

This brings us to the issue of Worthless. College degrees are awarded in different disciplines. This means that merely getting a degree is not enough. What you learn while earning a degree and, to a much lesser extent where you learn it, matters a great deal.

So here are two scenarios that relate directly to the Worthless issue. First, if you start out to complete a bachelor’s degree and fail to complete your bachelor’s degree (which about 54 million Americans are doing today), your investment is not completely worthless but it is pretty close. The compensation difference in BUZZ Today is based on those who actually have their bachelor’s degree. Taking some courses may make you smarter but having the degree is a way for employers to decide whether you are a candidate for their open jobs. Completing the degree is very important in the job market place.

The other way that you can create a worthless (i.e. a significantly less valuable outcome) is to earn a degree where there are no jobs that require the knowledge gained during your studies. Here the professors passionately argue that an education is about more than money. I agree. Worth is a big concept than money. But for now the Worthless conversation is about the economics of your degree efforts.

The Worthless question is not about you, the school you attend nor how much smarter you are. The Worthless question is about whether an employer will pay you an attractive salary for the knowledge and shills you have. The fact is that it is possible for you to earn a degree where there are no open positions to fill. In this case there simply is no demand for the knowledge you have acquired with your bachelor’s degree. This may seem unfair, short sighted, cruel or any number of other negative descriptors. In the end it is still a fact. Employers are not going to pay for knowledge they do not need. Period.

The last item in this Worthless conversation is my advice to you. If you are truly interested in what your degree will be worth in the job market do your research on job opportunities before you enroll. To get that job market information go to O*NET and do your research. Your Future is Calling guides you on how to use that valuable data.

The last question is about Worth LessWorthless is about employers and jobs. Worth Less is about you. Here is how to look at this question. In an earlier Learn Prosper blog titled “Careers Begin with What You Learn” I shared that two thirds of employees under 30 are still searching for the right career and intend to switch careers within two years. This data show that for a large number of our young, the choice they made has been worth less to them. What they studied failed to get them into the “right” career for them.

But the issue about Worth Less is not merely about a career. This issue is about how well the area of study in your degree program fits “who you are”. This is about degree fit with you. For example, if you are passionate about teaching a career in that field is what you want to do in life. The fact that you will earn less is not relevant to the issue of worth less. In fact, becoming a teacher when it fits “who you are” is worth more to you than becoming an investment banker where you have the potential to earn far more. In this example, becoming an investment banker is indeed worth less to you. The point is that it is not all about money.  But to keep your bachelor’s degree from becoming worth less you have to know a great deal about “who you are”. This issue is not about jobs and salaries. This is about you. To learn about how to find out “who you are” go to the first chapters of Your Future is Calling. Some work there can help you make sure that your degree is not going to be Worth Less to you. No one else; not me, not employers, not professors, not your parents matter in this part of the Worth discussion. This is about you.

Go for it. The tools and information to answer the Worth questions are available. You just need to learn where they are and how to use them.

Five Things You Need to Know to Determine: “Is College Worth It?”

Not needed. High debt. No Job. Too costly. These are all things people are saying these days in answer to the question: “Is College Worth It?”. The two extreme answers are ALWAYS and NEVER (see BUZZ Today here). Neither of these answers is correct. If always and never are incorrect, the answer must lie somewhere in between these two absolutes. Indeed it does, which leads to the real question you should be asking which is: “When is College Worth It?” It is the answer to this question which will help you make better decisions for yourself and your children.

Buzz TodaySource: Alen Weiss, The Fallacy of College. “College not only isn’t for everybody, it might not be for anybody.” In contrast: Source: Time, December 2013, Gallup Poll – Majority of Americans Think College Education Is ‘Very Important’. The Gallup poll found that seven in 10 Americans consider a college education to be “very important,” up from 36 percent in 1978. Only six percent of respondents said college education was “not too important.”

First Thing You Need to Know Any college degree that traps you in a life of misery is not “Worth It” no matter how much or how little you spend to earn that degree. Misery is about you. It is not about college or even jobs. You have to begin with “who you are”. The decisions you make about college majors, careers and specific universities all must be linked to you and what fulfills you as an individual. This is the starting place for your college decisions that I talk about in Your Future is Calling.

Second Thing You Need to Know  One of the things that significantly increases the cost of college is the tradition of using the college to “find yourself”. This might have been an option in the good old days. It is the best option today. Going to a campus for five or six years is just too expensive today. There are much more efficient ways to get answers to this critical question. Degree Accelerator and Caliper assessment.are proven online instruments to efficiently get at the “who you are” question.

Third Thing You Need to Know The career you pick as well as the college you pick have significant impact on your earning power. But what is traditionally done is to pick a college or university and then figure out what to study. This is what I call Major – Major – Major in Your Future is Calling.  The Major – Major – Major decision is one of the main reasons the average number of credits of college graduates is on average over 10% more than than required for graduation. This excess both delays earning income and increases student debt.

Fourth Thing You Need to Know The vast majority of students pay only about one half of the list price of tuition, yet 54% of the potential students judge a college’s expense by sticker price alone without considering aid that could be offered. If you pay double the cost for tuition it makes every degree less likely to be “Worth It” from a financial point of view.

Fifth Thing You Need to Know Beyond getting the best discount. In college language this is stated in terms of grants and merit scholarships. In addition there additional way that the total cost of the education can be reduced

– Enroll in a community college to get a low cost education for your first two year general education requirement.

– Test out competency with CLEP testing from the non-profit College Board.

– Earn credit for prior learning assessment for life experience from CAEL and Learning Counts.

In summary, the five things that you can do to increase the answer YES to the question: “When is College Worth It?” are listed in summary here:

Use modern tools to determine “who you are”. Use data available on O*NET or Bureau of Labor Statistics to select a career before taking your first class. Learn what the average grants and merit scholarship awards are at the college you plan to attend. Know the facts on tuition costs and negotiate. Further reduce costs by avoiding Major – Major – Major. Finally further reduce costs through the approaches listed in detail in the Fifth item listed above.

How to Ignore the Noise and Make the College Choices Right for You

Control what you can control and forget about the rest of the noise in the higher education debate. Is college too expensive?  Yes. Is college worth it? Yes, if you chose wisely. Can you wind up with $150,000 of debt and no job. Yes, if you chose poorly. Here we explore what you can control to get a better outcome for you while the pundits argue about policy and politics.

Buzz TodayThe Tuition is Too Damn High: Source: The Washington Post. “The Tuition is Too Damn High” is a 10 part series that ran in Wonkblog over two weeks exploring the causes and consequences of – and potential fixes for the skyrocketing costs of higher education. In spite of this general conclusion, the series concludes: “Why College is Still Worth It.” So does college raise incomes? Is it investment good enough to make widely accessible? Yes, it is. Period. Even the widely read Megan McArdle quotes James Heckman, the Nobel Prize – winning economist in Newsweek that “Even with these high prices, you’re finding a high return for individuals who are bright and motivated. If your not college ready, then the answer is no, it’s not worth it.”

The advice the experts quoted in Buzz Today here is wise advice consistent with what I am recommending to you. For you to avoid crushing student debt and end up unemployed you have to make good choices before you go back to school. It is only through these wise choices that you can earn a return on your education investment.

It seems like sound advice. The trick is “how do you do that?” Unfortunately the intense debate among the policy makers and the politicians (Is government aid actually making college more expensive?)  about the issues is of little help for the very personal choices you need to make today.

As Heckman, the Nobel Prize economist implies, you have to begin with yourself. In Your Future is Calling, I give you specific tools to do just that. For now, here are a few tips to take away from this post.

1. Make sure you have the motivation you need to do the work. Simply getting a piece of paper (a degree) is a fool’s goal. In the end, what you can do with you talent and skills from your education will determine your success. After the first interview for a job, nobody cares about the piece of paper (degree) hanging on your home office wall.

2. Do your homework. This means that you must know “who you are”. Once you know the important things about what you are good at and what motivates you (see Buzz Today), you need hard data on jobs and employment opportunities. Here I direct you to objective government data about jobs and income in the US economy. The site O*NET provides the data. Your Future is Calling shows you how to use this important data base to your personal advantage.

Start today. The choices are yours.

What Is Your College Degree Worth?

Academics debate North Carolina governor says The Wall Street Journal.

The Issue? What is the value of an education?  The debate feels like a riot at a European soccer match.  Lots of people have an opinion on the subject.   Buzz Today  Source: The Wall Street Journal Students can get a minor in “Social and Economic Justice” without ever taking a course in the economics department (at UNC – Chapel Hill). Businesses aren’t lining up to hire them. U. S. colleges and universities aren’t immune from criticism.  .

The real issue is who gets to decide what is valuable to you?  The answer is you do. Value to you starts and ends with you.   Value depends on “who you are”. “Who you are” is something I explore in great depth in “Your Future is Calling”.

To create value you have to make good choices.  This is true whether the value is your personal value or what employers are willing to pay you. If you want to study whatever, you are free to do so.

The rub is between things you value and what the rest of society values.  If the two align you are blessed to be able to do what is valuable to you and get paid for it.  This result is ideal.  If they don’t align, you can still be happy, but if society doesn’t want what you learn you don’t get paid for it (no job) or get paid very little.

Professors are little help.  They are subject matter experts.  They know a lot about their subject.  They hope you like their subject too so that they have a job.  The unfortunate truth is that most know little about who you are, especially if you are an adult learner.  They know less than you think about the over 950 careers listed by the Department of Labor on O*Net.

The bottom line is that you well may value subjects in school that have little economic value in today’s global economy.  If that is what you value, more power to you.  The problem is in the expectations – both yours and others.

So even though you may hold a diploma with your name on it from an Elite American University, it is no guarantee of value to either you or potential employers.   Value is first about your knowing who you are, then learning what society is willing to pay for.

In the end the best outcome for you does not depend on the debate between the governor and the professors.  Real value is for you to decide.  But decide you must.