New Study Shows College Degrees Still Highly Valued, but Post-School Expectations are Skewed

DENVER—January 14, 2014—As college students settle back into class after their holiday break, a new study from leading qualitative research firm iModerate reveals that regardless of economic hardships and increasing tuition costs, the pursuit of associates/vocational and four-year college degrees continues to be highly valued among both students and their parents. At the same time, the study shows how early job experiences mirror graduates’ views of whether they chose the right program and how well their schools prepared them for the real world.

The iModerate Study, titled Exploring the Value of Higher Ed with Grads and Parents, provides insight into the unflagging desire on behalf of both graduates and their parents to obtain a degree, but also reflects the satisfaction – and dissatisfaction – graduates feel once they get into the real world and try to find a job in their chosen field. While graduates and parents alike concluded that even today’s higher cost of college is worth it, graduates’ feelings about their degree and school related directly to post-college job satisfaction. Those who didn’t like their first jobs said they made a poor degree choice and/or their school didn’t prepare them adequately to enter the workforce, and some recommended four-year schools emulate two-year schools’ more pragmatic career approach and path to better prepare graduates for the real world.

The topic of associates/vocational vs. four-year schools continues to be discussed and debated among families and educators, for good reason. The iModerate study found different expectations between graduates of each type of school. Students entering two-year programs tend to do so for very practical purposes – they are often older and may have families to support so they need to enter the workforce as quickly as possible. While they believe they can initially earn as much as a four-year graduate, in the long run they equate higher degrees with higher pay, and many plan to finish a four-year program. Four-year school students, by comparison, believed their degree would make them more marketable; some even overestimated the value of the degree and assumed that classes alone were enough to make them employable.

“The outside world plays a major role in graduates’ ability to be successful in life, as well as their perception of what success looks like,” said Adam Rossow, Partner at iModerate. “People still strongly believe that an associates/vocational or four-year degree is their best defense against a world that’s tougher than ever, and one not likely to get easier. What they don’t see as clearly is that planning ahead even further by choosing a degree program that will make them as marketable as possible and set them up for career satisfaction could alleviate stress and negative feelings about their school once they’re in the real world.”

The study includes recommendations from both graduates and their parents based on their college experiences. All graduates still believe “knowledge is power” and want to pursue some sort of degree. Parents as well, despite high cost of tuition, think advanced degrees are widely expected and want their child to pursue one in order to be successful and happy in the world. A key recommendation from both four-year graduates (particularly those who felt their college failed them) and parents is for institutions to take a page from associates/vocational colleges’ playbook of career preparation.

Exploring the Value of Higher Ed with Grads and Parents was a qualitative study consisting of 82 conversations with a mix of four-year graduates, associates/vocational graduates and their parents, conducted in Q4 2013.

About iModerate
iModerate Research Technologies is a leading qualitative market research firm with a distinct approach to uncovering the most meaningful insights. Based in Denver, Colorado and founded in 2004, iModerate is known for pioneering and championing the online one-on-one. With over 100,000 conversations to our credit, and an in-depth knowledge of how consumers think and behave, we have helped countless organizations obtain the insights that matter most to them. Visit us at