Does a High Dollar Education Still Have Value?

It seems justified and important to question the value of a college education when the economy is not producing jobs the way it used to and college tuition is on the rise. Is the present focus on the financial, however, diverting us from considering other sources of value for a college degree that has proven itself over the years with innumerable life-altering outcomes for ourselves and our country? Perhaps considering the alternatives (some lucrative, some not) would help put this into perspective. One of the stories I hear over and again is from students who decide to quit college in order to work and then return with a very different point of view and motivation. Experiencing that alternative reality made a difference, and these returnees will do whatever it takes to get that college education.

There are very few grads who regret getting their bachelor's degrees, meaning it is likely there is a strong ROI, or return on investment, for most grads. A Pew study indicates many [others] are skeptical, but college graduates remain confident in their choices (Brian Burnsed, Americans Split on Value of a College Degree, May 6, 2011,

  • Of the college graduates surveyed, 86 percent claimed that it has been a good investment.
  • Ofthe parents Pew surveyed, 94 percent expect their child to go to college, inferring that the increased skepticism hasn't significantly influenced decision-making.

It is well documented that college graduates make more money overa lifetime than non-college grads. Not only that, but the unemployment rate is lower than that of those without that degree even in our strained economy. However, more benefits are showing themselves in the research and they are significant. I have read marriages of the college-educated are more sustainable, producing a more stable situation for children, thus translating to a stronger foundation for our society.

In addition, research shows college graduates are more engaged citizens and make healthier decisions than those who don't earn a diploma. [There search study] Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society argues higher education has a high rate of return for society. "A more educated work force means greater tax revenue and a stronger democracy" (Elia Powers, The (Non-Monetary) Value of a College Degree, Sept. 13, 2007,

It seems to be well known but often forgotten how the liberal arts in a college education can put one on the path to a well-lived life. This can be priceless. Learning about art, history, global issues, communication and the economy, for example, will not leave one in a dark cocoon of life experiences, but will allow them to "butterfly" themselves into a world of understanding and relationship. "College exposes future citizens to material that enlightens and empowers them, whatever careers they end up choosing ... Ideally, we want everyone to go to college, because college gets everyone on the same page. It's a way of producing a society of like-minded grownups ... There is stuff that every adult ought to know, and college is the best delivery system for getting that stuff into people's heads" (Louis Menand, "Live and Learn," The New Yorker, June 6, 2011,

One of our students at George Fox has summarized the liberal arts value quite well for her own life:
"When I first started college, I kind of just thought of liberal arts classes as things to get through, so I could complete the classes I needed for my major and get a job that paid money. However, I have come to value my liberal arts education more and more as I delve into the complexities of nursing and working with people. Any information and skills above and beyond those that are critical to my job allows me to be that much better at my job. According to the article we read, 'a liberal arts education is aimed at developing the ability to think, reason, analyze, decide, discern, and evaluate.' Therefore, a liberal arts education is aimed at developing all the skills I need as a nurse ... or to just successfully work with people. These skills that I have been developing subconsciously are critical to being a well-rounded individual and are the glue that link jobs and connections and success in life to the skills I have learned on my vocational path. One cannot survive on vocational skills alone, in this present day; how well we develop those other skills will decide how well we do in life. According to the article, it's 'a pretty good measure of how people are going to do in life.'"

Given all of that, what compels us now in this question of value? In the Office of Career Services, we could be considered a pressure point in the transition from college to the workforce. I am picturing my mother's old pressure cooker steaming away when she was either cooking beans or potatoes.  I remember how significant the valve cover was as it wobbled back and forth from the steam. The timing of all this was critical in order for the food to be cooked just right. So how do we utilize the pressure of making a high-priced education "amount to something" as a student approaches graduation? Defining "something" is the challenge for us and your student.

Although the value of a degree is well documented despite the high cost, we cannot ignore the financial pressures facing our graduates – especially those with lowest-earning degrees and everyone facing a job market that is primarily just "slow and steady." ( Therefore, preparing and supporting our emerging professionals in their search for suitable employment is essential ... and now is that time.  I don't recommend standing at the top of an exit ramp with a sign, as one of our grads did recently, as a constructive way to find a job. Unfortunately it perhaps signaled desperation vs. a methodical, well-planned approach. It has long been said among career professionals that the prepared (for the job search) candidate is the one who gets the job over the more qualified candidate. How does a pre-graduate get ready for what awaits? It is to this we are all dedicated and must turn our attention as we help your student prepare for a fruitful job search bringing more value to their education.

  1. They need to have excellent professional job search skills – not to be over looked or over estimated.
  2. Maximizing their liberal arts training could provide life support out in the trenches.
  3. Their ability to form relationship could connect or network them to a job.
  4. Their understanding of their own vocational calling can bring better decision-making.
  5. Their own preparation in internships could turn the tide for them.
  6. Their path could be a journey with a "wandering map," not necessarily linear; but always meaningful.
  7. Temporary work could be an open door to something very intriguing and profitable.
  8. Being self-employed could be the answer if the winds are right for the sail.
  9. Matching skills to what employers need and articulating those skills makes a strong candidate.
  10. Understanding and practicing what it means to be a professional will set them apart.
  11. A transition year may or may not be a good option going forward.
  12. Learning the "dream job or employer" could look different from what was anticipated.
  13. Visiting the career services office could be one of the best things they've ever done.

Bonnie J Jerke, Director
Career Services, Stevens 114