A New Debate on the Value of Education

Last week, I wrote a post about a trend that is just starting to emerge in Higher Ed. What started out as a simple question of “Who Needs College?” has in one week turned into more of an evaluation expressed as “Is College a Lousy Investment?”

It could be said that Newsweek, the first media organization to openly challenge conventional wisdom and ask the hard questions (i.e., shown above) on some people’s minds, is being hypocritical. The fact is they have made several hundred million dollars ranking colleges over the last decade or more. These subjective rankings on everything imaginable have formed the basis of conventional wisdom today on education in America. By doing so, Newsweek has also perpetuated the public’s lofty view of “can’t miss” value in Higher Education. It is curious how they have now chosen to betray the same colleges they rank, and make money on, and turn the tables on Higher Ed in an attempt to appear more relevant.

Rather than indict Newsweek, I would like to address one of two central issues in what is sure to be an ongoing debate. Specifically, the claim that college grads are under-and-unemployed at a rate of 50%.  

First of all, the 50% rate commonly reported today is very misleading. I have investigated this situation and I believe this rate, which has been shown anecdotally, only measures the advertised job market. 

According to pros such as Dave Flanders, “The advertised job market is not where jobs are being found today.” Dave should know. He is an executive recruiter for many U.S. corporations and 39-year veteran of employment markets.  Internally-posted jobs and hidden jobs, or jobs which hiring managers need to fill but are not formalized through HR, are where jobs are being found today. The reality of where jobs are now found makes the 50% rate somewhat irrelevant.

Nevertheless, responsibilities of colleges must also be closely examined. They would serve themselves well by embracing a new vision and perspective on how to more fully develop their students. Which is to say, colleges don’t prepare students well enough for jobs and employment. This problem is twofold. First, colleges, universities and professors do not view their jobs of teaching “application” of knowledge and skills to their students serious enough. If they did, job placement rates for college grads would run as high as 90%, which is common in most Engineering degree programs today. 

Second of all, career services or career development centers at universities and colleges are understaffed, underfunded and misdirected. All too often, they run de facto job fairs, build unproductive resumes and advocate graduate school. When they should work harder on building relationships with community employers and alumni, do more to understand employment markets and teach students how to network to find internships and secure jobs. If they did, job placement rates for students would be much higher. They could also fully disclose these rates as outgoing measures of student performance to the public, which could be used as meaningful data for enrollments and tied to endowments and state funding. 

There are many facets to this debate which need to be understood and acted upon to create more value in Higher Ed. Only one thing is for sure, this is an important debate that will continue to define us all. We plan to cover it for you as much as possible. By sifting through the most important issues, we will help you come out on top.

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