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

Instead, a modern postsecondary institution should share relevant labor market data, geolocated to their region, to show prospective students where a college education might take them, what kinds of salaries are available for those jobs, and how many jobs are actually available.

Students should be able to find programs based on their career aspirations, or compare different offerings based on the career direction it might take them. And they should have clarity into how much they’re likely to spend—and how much they’re likely to make upon completion.

For what it’s worth, this is the exact data that today’s teenagers look for when choosing a college pathway.

2. Focus on Learners and Invest in their Success

Beyond clarifying career opportunities—which in and of itself should provide motivation to earn a credential—higher education institutions need to improve retention and completion.

This means focusing on the levers that will improve the learner experience and encourage them to persist through their programs.

One mechanism to drive this is by guiding learners toward relevant co-curricular programming. Valdosta State University took an active role in leading students—especially those who are under-performing—to co-curricular activities in an effort to improve retention… and it worked! They found that retention increased retention to 95 percent when students attend at least 10 events per semester.

Being more meaningful in working with students and providing them opportunities to engage their interests both inside and outside the classroom establishes pathways that support their success.

3. Offer Alternative and Flexible Programming

Finally, being “educated” doesn’t rely on earning a degree. The Lumina Foundation’s measurement of success looks at completion of both degrees and high-quality, non-degree credentials. This can include assessment-based certificates, industry certifications, and competency badges.

The benefit of these programs is that they’re often highly outcome-oriented, specifically geared toward a career path, and are much shorter than full-scale degree offerings. That means students can immediately see their value and complete the offering quickly.

Colleges and universities that are looking to engage a wider pool of learners and provide them immediate and recognizable value should explore offering or scaling their alternative credential efforts.

Take the Skepticism Seriously

Many higher education leaders fall into the trap of not taking students’ skepticism seriously. It can be exhausting to constantly face this kind of criticism … but it’s essential not to dismiss these kinds of concerns.

The modern learner is juggling multiple priorities and has seen previous generations go into decades of debt to earn their degrees. What’s more, the data provides some justification to their concerns. And with so many alternative providers entering the market, offering upskilling and reskilling fast-tracks to in-demand jobs, there are more options for learners than ever before.

It’s essential that we do what we can as an industry to directly address the concerns learners raise when considering a postsecondary pathway.

By showing students that the college has flexible options for them, that those options will lead to a good job, and that the college will support them on the way, we can be sure to deliver on the mission of supporting socioeconomic mobility and supporting the educated citizenry.

eSchool Media Contributors