Only Half of College Graduates Think Higher Education is Worth the Price

Posted By Eliana Osborn on October 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm
Only Half of College Graduates Think Higher Education is Worth the Price

Purdue University and Gallup recently released their 2015 report on how alumni perceive higher education.  Interviewing 30,000 college graduates, the report asks about debt and the value of bachelor degrees.

According to the report, researchers had two overarching questions in mind: “Do U.S. universities provide students with opportunities and experiences equal to increasing college fees? Do students graduate well-equipped to find good jobs and prosper financially as well as pursue their passions and lead healthy, fulfilling lives?”

“Great Jobs, Great Lives: The Relationship Between Student Debt, Experiences and Perceptions of College Worth” provides real numbers for many of the issues being debated in politics and in public right now.  Gallup and Purdue conduct a similar survey each year, but this time a new question was added to the mix.  Instead of asking just about life after graduation, the 2015 report questions whether people think their college education was worth it.

Only half of respondents say college was worth the price—and only a quarter of those who attended for-profit schools think it was worth it.  And these aren’t just new graduates, struggling to find jobs for the first time.  People of all ages participated in the survey, though those graduating in the past ten years were less likely to feel their degree was worth what they paid.

There’s also a big difference in perceived value based on how much debt people took on for their education.  Those with the most debt—over $50,000—had the most negative perceptions.  Only 18% of this group strongly agreed that their degree was worth it.  Compared with the overall 50-50 view of value, graduates with student loans of any amount were significantly less likely to see college as worth it.  Just 33% of those in debt believed in their investment.

As more and more students require student loans to complete college, knowing those graduates view their financial commitment is an important consideration.  The ways that colleges measure success -graduation rates, employment data, etc. – are often different from how individuals see things.  And type of institution – big name schools, private colleges, or out-of-state institutions – made no difference in valuation.

Survey respondents in lucrative fields like law saw more value in their education, as might be expected.  Those struggling to find adequate employment were less likely to see college as worth the investment.

What does that mean for students just beginning their undergraduate degrees?  Each person has a different experience, but it makes sense to be skeptical about choosing a high-cost school unless you have very specific reasons for doing so.  A key takeaway from the report involves relationships – according to the report, strong support from faculty members and mentors on campus can go a long way toward increasing the perceived value of their education.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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