By Ryan Velez
Your modern college student is in a bit of a pickle when it comes to their education, especially if trades don’t interest them. The cost of college will be going up, but if you look at the job potential after getting out of school, a diploma in and of itself counts for little. How do students handle this issue? Black Enterprise suggests a reframing may be in order: think like investors.
“They need to carefully consider which degrees pay off and why, and they need to make informed decisions about the type of degree and major they select. Investors in financial markets consider many complex variables to mitigate risks and maximize returns. Investing in college is no different,” explains Michael Lawrence Collins, vice president of Jobs for the Future.
While trades do offer the opportunity to make good money without a degree, overall, college is the pathway to better earning power. In a report on the value of college majors, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that people who earn bachelor’s degrees and work full-time can expect to earn 84% more than their peers with a high school diploma over their lifetimes. It’s compelling evidence that a degree from a four-year institution is a good investment. Less clear is the value of community college. In theory, community colleges are useful because they allow students to take certain classes that can be transferred to a four-year school for a much lower cost. In practice, it’s not clear how this pans out.
When it comes to allowing students to think like investors, Collins says advisors are key. “Student-to-adviser ratios are high. There isn’t enough time for advisers to help students set educational and career goals and thoughtfully consider the employment prospects and earnings potential associated with different degrees. Moreover, advisers often work in organizational structures that don’t support deep and sustained advising over the course of students’ college experiences.
Few advisers have sufficient training to help students factor real-time labor market information and employment trends in the local and regional labor markets into their selection of degree programs.” Handling this issue is a three-part process, he explains:
“First, the advising function in colleges needs to be adequately resourced. Additional resources can reduce the high student-to-adviser ratios in colleges, which would allow advisers to spend quality time helping students set educational and career goals that are aligned with good jobs in the local and regional labor markets.
Second, colleges can make structural shifts that lighten the load of advisers. For example, offering a focused set of guided pathways — leading to credentials that are aligned with good jobs available in the local and regional economies—can extend advisers’ ability to help students make smart choices in college.
Third, advisers need sustained, high-quality professional development to increase their knowledge of the earnings associated with different types of degrees. They need to be able to help students consider the risks and returns of short- and longer-term degree options.”