3 Experts Discuss How Students Can Determine the Value of Their Education

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on August 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm
3 Experts Discuss How Students Can Determine the Value of Their Education

Figuring out if college is worth it comes down to more than just dollars and cents. The type of program, curriculum, internships and more all matter, too.

As it turns out, valuing a college education is much harder than just looking at the cost.

Amid skyrocketing tuition and a raging debate on whether or not college is even worth it, earlier this summer, the White House scrapped plans to rate colleges and universities, underscoring just how difficult it is to determine a school’s worth.


Source: Wells Fargo


The government is now choosing to provide students with data and online tools so they can evaluate colleges themselves, arguing that it’s better to offer information and let the consumer draw his or her own conclusion than to have the government do it for them.

Part of the reason for all the back pedaling? There is no one definitive way to determine if a school is worth the cost.

“When assessing value, folks have to think about what they want to have happen at the end of their experience,” says Peter Boyle, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “For some, it’s looking for a higher-earning job and for others, it’s looking to learn a new skill.”

What to factor in

People are going to have different priorities when it comes to valuing a school, but there are some characteristics that should be always be included. For starters, Carrie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, says students and families should only look at colleges or universities that are going to provide the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century economy. That means internships, writing-intensive courses, mentoring, and a broad based curriculum outside the major. Marketable skills are particularly important, since many college students are graduating without the basic skills to get hired.  “It takes more than a major to have success in today’s economy,” says Johnson.

That’s not to say cost shouldn’t be taken into account. After all, graduating with a teaching degree from Harvard might not be worth it if your salary is a fraction of what your college education cost you. According to the College Board, a “moderate” college budget for in-state public school averaged more than $23,000 this year. For private schools, the average was more than $46,000.

In a recent study of the value of colleges and universities, The Brookings Institute looked at the curriculum, alumni skills, orientation toward STEM, rate of completion and student aid to determine the value of each school. According to the study, colleges that provided high value in terms of earnings include Cal Tech, MIT, Stanford, Rose-Hulman in Indiana, Colgate in upstate New York, and Carleton College in Minnesota. New Hampshire Technical Institute, Lee College in Baytown, Texas and Pearl River Community College in Mississippi rounded out the list for two-year colleges.

One way to determine if the school you’re considering is going to be worth it is to consider both the input and the output, says Jay Schalin of The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. The input is what you are going to pay for school, versus what you expect to earn as a result. You need to figure out if four years of school is worth the time and cost, or if you are better off getting a one or two year certificate in a trade.

The major you are considering is also going to help determine if the cost of school is worth it.  Pursuing degrees in growing industries that are in need of workers is going to increase the likelihood that your earnings will outpace your costs.

“It’s not which school you go to, it’s what your major is, if you are looking at it from the dollars and cents perspective,” says Schalin. “If you’re majoring in one of the majors that tend to give people good jobs, that has a very different outcome than majoring in art.”

On the other end is the output side, or what the student is going to get out of the experience, says Jenna Ashley Robinson, president of the Pope Center For Higher Education Policy. That ultimately falls on the student.  Let’s say you aren’t enthusiastic about going to college and don’t like doing the work. A four year degree at any school won’t be worth it if you aren’t getting anything out of it. “How you get a good outcome is a shared experience,” says Boyle of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “There’s the responsibility of the institution to provide students with the tools and resources, and it’s incumbent on the students to show up and do the work.”

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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