Three Reasons a Degree is Important

“Is a College Degree Worth It?” There are three important reasons the answer is almost always Yes.

A degree is a credential, it communicates important information to the external world. The first reason credentials are important is because employers screen and select new employees based on the credential. Automated resume screening software screens job candidates before an interview. The second reason is one we have explored before. On average, each progression of  accredited degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional/Ph.D.) produces more life time income than the degree immediately below it. This is true even though some associate’s degrees produce higher income than some bachelor’s degrees.  The third important reason has to do with the motivation of the learner. This last one is about you – as in Your Future is Calling. This is the reason we will explore in depth here in what I call the lessons of CS50/CS50x at Harvard University.

Buzz TodaySource:  David J. Malan CS50 blog: I am a Senior Lecturer on Computer Science at Harvard University I received my A.B., S.M., and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the same in 1999, 2004, and 2007, respectively. I teach Harvard College’s introductory course, Computer Science 50 otherwise known as CS50. In October 2012 Harvard launched a MOOC called CS50x. 150,349 students registered to take the course online. 1,388 or .9% of the original registrants received a certificate of completion for taking the course.

The data in the BUZZ Today documents the level of completion of the MOOC number CS50x offered starting in October, 2012 from Harvard University. The percentage of enrollment that received a certificate of completion was .9%. CS50 is the core course offered on the Harvard campus to students enrolled in degree seeking programs at this prestigious University. During the fall of 2012 there were 706 Harvard students enrolled in CS50. Of those 706 originally enrolled, 703 or 99.6% completed the course.

With so many nines floating around it may be confusing. The results for completion are .9% vs. 99.6%. Just to be totally clear, this is something under one percent vs. nearly one hundred percent for the same course from the most famous University in America. What does it mean?

Clearly it is not about the commonly referenced issues of course content, college reputation, faculty status/capability or time of the year. It is the same course, the same university at the same time. I will assert that what is different is the student doing the learning and more specifically the motivation of the students enrolled in the MOOC CS50x versus the motivation of the on campus student enrolled in CS50.

Here is the specific conclusion relative to the headline that the degree is important. The most important distinction between the students enrolled in CS50x, the online MOOC and CS50, the Harvard University campus course, is that all of the students on campus were students enrolled in a degree program. They were degree seeking students. In contrast, none of the students enrolled in CS50x, the online MOOC were degree seeking students. CS50x does not award college credit. By design, completion of CS50x online does not qualify for credit toward an accredited degree. There is one other important distinction between CS50x and CS50. The campus based CS50 students actually paid thousands of dollars of tuition to be enrolled while the CS50x MOOC students enrolled for free.

So the key comparisons are:

CS50x – Free MOOCM .9% completion
CS50 – Tuition paying and degree seeking 99.6% completion

This is the same course from the same institution taught by the same faculty member. One is online and one is on campus. All of those who enrolled in CS50x knew it was online before they registered.

It’s clearly not about the cost, the content, the fame of the faculty member, nor the reputation of the institution. These are all factors frequently cited as differentiators. I assert that it isn’t even about the quality of the students attending even though Harvard’s highly selective admission policies are designed to assure high quality students. On a pure random basis, with 150,349 registrations for a Harvard course there had to be tens of thousands with the intellectual capacity of those attending CS50 on the Harvard campus.

There is only one defensible inference to be drawn from this gigantic .9% vs. 99.6% gap. The implication has to be that the campus based students were motivated to complete while the online CS50x students had no comparable compelling purpose to complete the course. The investment of the campus students represented a step toward an important credential – in this case, an accredited Harvard University degree. For the online MOOC students this was just another course out of thousands available.

And it is with this evidence that I share the third important reason for earning a degree.  This third reason is about you, the learner. The credential, that is, the degree itself is a powerful motivator to do the work to learn and prosper from the effort.

Oh, by the way, I think this data has important implications for the outlook of MOOCs as the disruptive force in higher education. I will let you draw your own inferences about this issue. My belief is that MOOCs as they are constituted today will not displace the higher education as we know it.

How to Make Sure College Fits Who You Are

Should Everyone Go to College?  The answer is, of course NO.   But the no answer may be for a different reason than you think.  It is about matching what you do with who you are, not how much money you will make.  If you can earn a degree that earns a healthy income and matches what you want to do with your life then do it.  If that’s not possible, pick what fits you.  Actually it is nearly as easily done as said.

There is a huge debate raging about the advice to go to college.  Like so many things in our society today, this conversation has become politicized around national political agendas and public policy.  The politics is about other people.  What we are talking about here is you and your future.

Buzz Today Source:  Inside Higher Ed. Free for All Over “College for All” “Should Everyone Go to College?” is the title of the research brief co-written by Sawhill and Stephanie Owen, a senior research assistant at Brookings. The paper — essentially a review of existing literature on the topic — is facing sharp criticism, both philosophically and methodologically, from ideological friends and foes alike.  Averages mask enormous variation that means that many individuals do not fare so well, and the authors spend the rest of the paper documenting the ways in which students’ return from their higher education may fall short based on the colleges, majors and careers they choose.

Some in the media and many on the Internet are passionate about the political implications of the policy debates.  But I want to return to what it all means to the individual prospective student like yourself.  In the end, what law makers and policy wonks think about your personal decision is not critical to your future.  What is most critical to your future is starting with “who you are”.

I want to take a few lines to talk about “who you are”.  In Your Future is Calling, I point the reader to several instruments that will help you answer this important question.  The answers are the starting point for you to lay the road-map out to your future.  These are scientific instruments that have been proven with hundreds of thousands of users.  What these instruments do is take your answers to a number of questions and provide information back to you about what it all means.

What these instruments tell you is “who you are” based on the science of the instruments and your personal inputs. They paint a picture for you that lays a foundation for the rest of the decisions you need to make. In Your Future is Calling, I help you take that information and map it to careers, majors and colleges. This approach focuses on you and not the politicians and policy makers in Washington. In the end we are talking about your future, not theirs.