Many Americans struggle with the value of a college education as they contemplate their investment-but the investment is critically important

3 ways to combat higher ed skepticism


Many Americans struggle to calculate the value of their college investment, but that investment is more important than ever

There are numerous ways to calculate the value of a college education.

There’s the generational impact of education, which drives socioeconomic development for communities. There’s also the value of an educated citizenry, which can be trusted to make good decisions in a democracy.

But as the cost of postsecondary education continues to skyrocket—forcing folks to take out loans and go into debt to achieve it—the value calculation becomes simpler. Today, people primarily assess the value of a college education by its ROI.

The Skepticism is Obvious

The fact is, many Americans struggle to calculate the value of their college investment.

According to the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, only 60 percent of college graduates earn more than those with only a high school diploma within a decade of graduating. What’s more, at more than 30 percent of all colleges, fewer than half the graduates who leave the institution earn more than high school graduates after 10 years.

As a result, the American public is highly skeptical of the value of a college education. A new study from Public Agenda found that more than half of Americans believe a college education to be a questionable investment due to high loans and limited job opportunities.

Among young adults without degrees, 70 percent of respondents question the value of a college investment. Worryingly, 49 percent of young adults who earned a postsecondary degree are skeptical of the investment they already made.

The skepticism of the value of a college education also shows in completion rates. The graduation rate is currently at 64 percent at universities, and approximately 34 percent at community colleges according to the NCES.

There is no greater threat to a society than skepticism of education—especially as we shift to a knowledge economy. The Lumina Foundation estimates that America needs 60 percent of its adults to earn a postsecondary credential to keep the economy healthy, but we’re only at 51.9 percent.

Here are three ways modern college leaders can work to address the skepticism of today’s students.

1. Turn the Tide by Making Labor Market Data Available

The first—and most obvious—step that colleges and universities can take to address learner skepticism is to bring labor market data to the forefront.

Students shouldn’t be trying to guess what kinds of career pathways a college education might lead them toward. Similarly, they shouldn’t be asked to rely on assurances from institutional staff that a credential will lead to their success.

eSchool Media Contributors