A new report seeks to pinpoint what, exactly, prompts people to say their higher education was worth the cost

When is higher ed worth it?

A new report seeks to pinpoint what, exactly, prompts people to say their higher education was worth the cost

For years, stakeholders have sought to define what, exactly, Americans value from their education. Many have focused on wages, in part due to studies demonstrating that college graduates earn more over a lifetime than their non-graduate peers. But the answer might not be related to wages at all.

Instead, people say they see more value in their education when their courses strongly relate to their work, and when they have high-quality, applied-learning experiences and top-notch career and academic advising opportunities.

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The Strada Education Network partnered with Gallup to ask more than 340,000 people about their postsecondary educational and professional experiences. In doing so, the groups hoped to create an actionable dataset for educators, policymakers, and employers.

“Higher education’s value proposition has been scrutinized since the last recession, fueled by high underemployment among college graduates and employers’ struggles to find workers with the skills they need. Completion rates of students from the lowest-income households have stagnated for decades, while the cost of a college education keeps climbing,” according to the new report.

“These issues raise questions about the cost and benefits of a college education regardless of its earnings advantages. It’s time to consider whether using wages alone to measure value goes far enough.”

The majority of those surveyed made it resoundingly clear that they place the most value on educational programs and experiences that align with their career pathways.

The report yields four key findings:

1. Relevant courses, not wages have the strongest link to how consumers assess the value of their education experience.

2. Among those with terminal bachelor’s degrees, graduates saw greater career and cost value in fields traditionally associated with careers, such as healthcare and education — even if those careers are less lucrative financially.

3. Those who started postsecondary education and did not complete saw the least value from their experience, with only a quarter of them agreeing it was a worthwhile experience, suggesting that we must continue the efforts to improve postsecondary completion in this country.

4. When education consumers believe they are provided high-quality, applied learning experiences and excellent career and academic advising, their assessment of value increases regardless of their program of study.


Laura Ascione