Is College Worth It?

Part 6 of The Case for Inventing a New Form of Work Experience: the Externship
Matt Wilkerson
Cofounder and CEO
Lorem ipsum sit dolor et sua vous.

In my last article, I examined some of the challenges associated with college career centers and why they fail to provide true value to students looking for hiring outcomes. Here, I delve into the return on investment from a modern college degree, assuming hiring outcomes are the most important reason students go to college.

As the landscape of higher education faces seismic shifts, the pressure mounts on university leaders to justify the investment. This article delves into the urgent need for higher education institutions, beyond the elite, to reevaluate and enhance the return on investment (ROI) of their degree programs. We explore practical steps for aligning educational outcomes with career success, thereby addressing the growing skepticism around the worth of a college education in today's job market.

Is College Worth It?

While the question of higher education’s ROI to students and value to employers has been increasingly asked over the last couple of decades, it has only been since Covid that the urgency to act kicked into gear.  With the exception of elite institutions, enrollments are down pretty much across the board.  Even business schools which should be known for their pragmatic connection to industry, and thus career outcomes, are seeing falling applications.  If university chancellors, presidents, provosts, and deans haven’t felt the pressure to make a change, they should be now.  And they will more and more with the passing of each year. 

How Do Universities Increase Student ROI?

I decided to ask the aggregated body of human knowledge, ChatGPT, this question.  In particular:  With college enrollments down plus families and GenZ questioning the value of a degree, what are 10 steps university leaders can take to increase the ROI of their degree programs?     

The response I received:

  1. Strengthen Career Services
  2. Develop Industry Partnerships
  3. Focus on Skill Development
  4. Offer Flexible Learning Options
  5. Promote Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  6. Enhance Financial Aid and Scholarships
  7. Showcase Alumni Success Stories
  8. Implement Outcome-Based Education
  9. Engage in Continuous Curriculum Review
  10. Foster a Culture of Lifelong Learning

The top 3 sum everything up.  University and college leaders need to align the incentives of their institutions toward career outcomes.  In previous articles, we established that for students to produce career outcomes, they need to build a track record of experience – i.e. fill up the “Professional Experience” sections of their resumes.  But the pursuit of an academic degree and building a resume are in two different worlds.  What if they could be aligned toward the same goal?  

So... is College Worth it Today?

It's getting more and more expensive to go to college and for many, getting a degree is a luxury that cannot be justified simply because it is a natural next step in life. If getting hired is the ultimate goal of college, then it makes sense that students and parents are considering alternate routes to reaching that goal.

Professional experience is a highly valued part of a candidate's resume, so finding ways to demonstrate job-ready skills via real work experience is one such pathway. Students are moving towards degree programs that offer a version of that work experience, like co-ops and apprenticeships. The classic Bachelor's degree will evolve, so that it better integrates these work experiences by offering pathways like alternating semesters between attending classes and working for a company.

It's worth asking, why would a student NOT forego college? It would be if they could find a school that still values giving them building their resume by the time they graduate.

So... is college worth it? The data still says yes. But whether universities will continue to stay relevant is a different question. Part of evolving will include revamping college career centers, which are primarily intended as bridges between education and employment. it will involve tackling the challenges that exist today, like underfunding, a lack of specialized industry knowledge among staff, and the overall disconnection between career centers and central university goals.

I explore this question in more detail on the CPO Playbook Podcast hosted by Felicia Shakiba. Give it a listen!

In my next article, I examine online credentials that have been touted as alternate ways for candidates to get hired and conclude that there is no evidence micocredentials like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera certificates actually help people land a job.

Ready to get started?

Learn how externships can help your business and students prosper.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.