Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/25/2019

Three reports address opinions and facts about the value of higher education

Last week, three new reports were released that provide information about the perceptions of Americans about the value of higher education and about the return on investment of various majors. I will summarize the important points from each report.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

The report published by these organizations is titled “Young Americans’ views on the value of higher education.” The report summarizes the results of interviews conducted between August 7 and September 9, 2019, with 265 teens age 13-17 and 1,036 young adults age 18-29. Some of the statistics are broken down between those two groups, and some are based on the total aggregate. Many of the findings are also disaggregated based on political affiliation and household income. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 61% of teens and 42% of young adults plan to attend or have attended a four-year college.
  • 77% of teens and 55% of young adults plan to or have already taken out student loans.
  • 62% of young people are concerned about making enough money to earn a good living.
  • Only 22% of young people think there are more disadvantages than advantages of attending a four-year college.
  • 70% of teens say their parents have indicated they will help pay for college tuition, but only 52% of young adults report getting this help.
  • More affluent young Americans are more likely to attend or plan to attend a four-year college.

Strada Education Group & Gallup

The report published by these organizations is titled “Changing the value equation of higher education.” Gallup interviewed 340,000 people from all education pathways to create a dataset so large and deep that educators, policymakers, and employers can take action on the results. This Education Consumer Survey considered two dimensions: cost value (whether consumers believe their education was worth the cost) and career value (whether consumers believe their education made them an attractive job candidate). Here are some of the findings from this report:

  • Consumers value their education when they clearly see its connection to a career.
  • Consumers report higher rates of value for vocational and technical programs and graduate degrees than the terminal bachelor’s degree. Only 40% who received a terminal bachelor’s degree believe it was worth the cost, and only 48% believe it made them an attractive job candidate.
  • With a bachelor’s degree, consumers value majors that are closely aligned with specific careers, such as health care, engineering, education, and computer science.
  • Only 34% of liberal arts graduates strongly agreed their degree was worth the expense, and 36% strongly agreed it would benefit their careers.
  • Consumers in any pathway see greater value when they see the relevance of their coursework in their work and day-to-day life.

U.S. Department of Education

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education published additional data on the College Scorecard that allows consumers to compare student debt and first-year of earnings of graduates by major or graduate degree program at 4,400 institutions of higher learning in America that receive Title IV funds. Previously, the College Scorecard included only schoolwide statistics on debt and earnings of graduates. This additional information allows consumers to consider the return on investment for each program at each institution.

To protect students’ privacy, the government isn’t publishing data on programs with few students. For programs making the cut, the data show debt loads at graduation for students who finished college in the 2016 and 2017 school years. It also reflects how much students who graduated during the 2015 and 2016 school years earned a year after leaving school, excluding those who re-enrolled. The data were drawn from the Internal Revenue Service and federal student loan data.

According to the Wall Street Journal, at most programs graduates typically earn more in their first year of employment than what they borrowed in total for their degree. However, 15% of programs had graduates carrying debt greater than income, and 2% had graduates who owed more than twice their annual salaries.


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