Decades ago, college was about finding oneself and hopefully acquiring some marketable skills along the way. That era is now in our collective rear-view mirror, as tuition has grown to epic levels and legions of graduates leave school with significant amounts of debt. While most studies concur that college is a wise investment, some Americans today are deeply skeptical of the value of a four-year degree. That skepticism was echoed in a report recently released by Pew called “The State of American Jobs.”
The report, which dives into a number of topics that traverse the the modern American workers’ views on the workplace, has an entire section dedicated to gauging what the working general public believes is the “value of a college education.” Here are the highlights of the report that we found interesting:
Certification programs more valuable than four-year degrees?
According to this study, “just 16% of Americans think that a four-year degree prepares students very well for a well-paying job in today’s economy.” That finding alone is alarming, especially in a world where $160,000 degrees are now extremely commonplace.
Interestingly, people were much more positive about certification programs in professional, technical and vocational fields. Here, about about a quarter of the people surveyed felt that these certification programs “prepare students very well.”
Unfortunately, the bulk of the people surveyed believed that today’s programs prepared students only “somewhat well” for a well-paying job.
The purpose of college: Republicans v. Democrats
The study highlighted how our cultural norms are shifting in a way that now deems the purpose of a college education to be the “specific skills and knowledge can be used in the workplace.” Nevertheless, there is still a significant minority of folks who believe college “should prioritize personal and intellectual growth” over “workforce-relevant skills.”
Interestingly, self-identified Democrats/Democratic Leaning people surveyed were divided between these two definitions of college, while a larger percentage of self-identified Republicans/Republican-Leaning people surveyed believed “the main purpose of college should be to teach specific skills.”
College Grads: Shiny happy people
People are much more positive about their own college experiences than the purpose of college in general. Most people believed that their degree helped them grow “personally and intellectually,” and about half agreed their education “was very useful in helping them access job opportunities.” People with post-graduate work were generally more bullish about the value of their college education, and were more likely to view college as “a place for personal growth.”
Is a four-year degree necessary to succeed?
The survey found that many people (33%) without a bachelor’s degree didn’t apply to jobs because they believed that they’d be passed over due to educational requirements. Those with two-year degrees felt they were the most “adversely affected by credentialing requirements” of all those without a bachelor’s degree (44%).
Sometimes reading these studies feels like gulping water from running hose — it’s hard to make sense of a barrage of statistics. Still, it’s interesting that society is evolving toward holding higher education more accountable for their students’ ultimate outcomes.
While people may have very fond memories of their college days, there are serious questions about the real-world value of a four-year degree in the workplace. But then again, those who don’t have a four-year degree appear to view their “some college” status as a stumbling block to their career.
The takeaway appears to be that having a college degree is important, we just need to make sure it delivers a tangible return-on-investment based on real world outcomes.
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