This article comes from the Campus Contributor Network. Over the course of the semester, students from across our campus outreach program will analyze their school’s finances and assess the overall return students see on their educational investments.
While addressing an excited crowd of community college students in Tennessee, President Barack Obama said, “A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class.” They all cheered wildly, enthused by the President’s assurance.
However, this quote, while comforting, paints a very simple picture of the landscape in higher education. The collegiate investment does not always provide such wholesome returns. Do colleges really perform the necessary tasks to prepare young adults for the modern economy?
Liquidating your degree
Employers will almost certainly favor an applicant who has a diploma. Such statistics corroborate the President’s words but also rely on the assumption that the average American actually graduates. In 2015, the six-year graduation rate for first-time degree seeking students was less than 60 percent.
Many high-school graduates who enroll in but do not complete college find themselves drowning in debt with nothing to show for it. To make matters worse, one study showed that low-income students are half as likely to finish college as their academically comparable counterparts from the top 25 percent of the income bracket. These students often dropout for financial reasons or the school’s inability to provide aid.
Which degrees pay the most
Not all college degrees are created equal. Occupation-specific majors tend to yield higher income and employment rates after graduation. This holds true at William and Mary, where the average Computer Science major makes $10,000-15,000 more per year than the average Liberal Arts student.
Intense market competition causes many graduates to take jobs outside their field or below their qualifications. Nearly half of all college graduates work low-skilled jobs or those that do not require a degree. Since 2000, these workers have increasingly applied for positions atypical of the highly educated.
About 20 percent of all STEM majors actually work jobs in those respective fields. The diploma alone is simply not enough anymore. As a result, many college graduates return to school for more degrees. In 2013, approximately 760,000 students earned their Master’s Degree, a figure up 250 percent since 1980.
But not all students can afford to take on additional debt with more schooling. They need a way to maximize the value of their college education, now.
What Employers Want
If students know what employers want, they can craft their college experience to ensure that they embody such qualities.
First and foremost, employers want intelligence. Many students go to college without actually improving their intellect. Employers report difficulty recruiting applicants who can solve problems, communicate effectively and think critically. Employers will often use Grade Point Average as a metric to screen for this level of brainpower.
Companies want employees with character. In the current economy, computers can perform many of the menial and tedious tasks previously performed by workers. The modern worker needs to be resilient, sociable and able to perform under pressure.
Many businesses are encountering difficulty finding applicants with “soft skills” – workers who are empathetic, patient and communicable. Employers prefer students with fortitude and tenacity, which for the most part, need to be developed outside the calssroom.
Lastly, employers want students with the basic skills and experience for a particular occupation. Hard skills like proficiency with Microsoft Excel or coding open a lot of doors in the modern economy. Pre-professional academic courses can prepare students for emerging job sectors. Internships also greatly increase the likelihood of receiving a job offer.
To assess the evolving needs of students, GenFKD will launch a new educational initiative at Colorado State University, providing students with the skills, organization and connections to secure the best collegiate outcome.
With the cost of high education at an all-time high, students need tangible results to justify their investment. They must maximize the value of their degree by working hard academically, developing character and gaining experience in their desired occupation.
At the same time, universities need to do all they can to support this professional growth and provide the necessary training and resources so that students receive an education that adequately prepares them to shape and lead the workforce.
Career services and modern educational initiatives such as those offered by GenFKD can ensure that every student lives up to his potential. Universities need to uphold their end of the deal and offer such programs. The diploma alone is not enough.
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