There are two purposes to this round of blog posts. First, I have written about various perspectives on the value of a college education. The other purpose is to demonstrate deploying content and gaining engagement for my current group of students. This post will conclude the series on value.
Employers that recruit college graduates seem to fall into two categories. Both categories highly value the college education. As a result, each is willing to reward the investment in education by providing high starting salaries for college-educated employees. Unfortunately, these starting salary levels are not universal. I occasionally encounter companies offering starting salaries half of the typical starting salary. Perhaps they should reread some of the earlier posts about the cost of college and the need for sufficient return on that investment. Besides these outliers, the two categories that value college education varies in their perspective on the essence of what they want from the newly graduated student.
The first group of recruiting companies values the liberal arts education (see https://www.marketinginsanity.net/thoughts-on-the-value-of-college/a-brief-history-and-the-background-of-the-indispensable-liberal-arts-education). The transformation of an individual through critical thinking, learning judgment, honing communication skills, and enhancing problem-solving ability is valuable to the hiring organization. These organizations value the new thoughts and ideas brought to them by the recent college graduate. Occasionally managers may rue some youthful enthusiasm but typically realize they need the energy and work the recent graduate provides. These employers are likely to cast a wide net and look at all or many majors.
The second group has specific needs in addition to the characteristics mentioned above. These can be engineering, chemistry, business, musical theatre, and so on. Skills in these disciplines go beyond the general education learning outcomes. As an example, here is a recent set of requirements posted in a blog for one area of my department, digital marketing.
However, it is this second group that sometimes struggles in their recruiting efforts. They look for these particular skills and then say all majors may apply. Take, for instance, the quote that accompanied the skills listed above. "The major can play an influence in an employer's decision, but the fact that you spent the time and effort to get your degree along with the experience you have received outside of traditional schooling and your work ethic goes further (at least in my opinion) than the specific degree you received." It is easy to understand the slippage from the desire for the essential skills from the liberal arts education to the specific major skills. Despite that statement of empathy, I am not sure such a statement as in the quote would be made about an engineer or concert pianist. These types of statements can confuse the student. That all majors may apply also confounds the value proposition. Employers must become conscious of their own needs and convey them clearly.
It seems that clear hiring expectations are essential for achieving the appropriate return on investment in specific majors. Employers need to embrace in their recruiting that they are targeting the best overall generalists. This is the category one mentioned above. These organizations should accept all majors as applicants. On the other hand, organizations in category two with hiring needs that match specific skills need to embrace that distinction. They should narrow their search to the appropriate major. The advice and messaging to the student from the employers must be clear. It will take clarity from all the parties involved in the college education process to help ensure the students achieve the return sought in the educational investment.
As an ending note, some future posts will address specifics challenges and remedies to delivering the collegiate educational value. Other posts will address sectors and organizations with impacts on the delivery of the value. This post addresses one such group. The employer and their willingness to pay for a collegiate education are integral to the value proposition.
This post will focus on the recipient of the college education, the student. While many authors address the modern student both positively and negatively, I build the theme of this post with the following quote (with my slight paraphrasing) in mind.
The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise. …
Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the goodies at the table, and committed various offenses against good tastes. They tyrannized over the pedagogy and schoolmasters. (Freeman 1912)
While the common attribution in this quote is from Socrates, it is not quite that old. This early 20th-century author provides their interpretation of the writings from the ancient Greek philosophers about children and students. So while the quote is not thousands of years old, the quote is over 100 years old and suggests complaints about the younger generation have substantially remained unchanged over time. Hopefully, I do not descend into generalizations about generations and instead use specific examples to explain the need for student responsibility.
Unlike previous posts, in this writing, I will share specific examples. These examples are from over 20 years of teaching at the university level. I will not cite many outside statistics but instead, express impressions from my experience at six different institutions. Finally, my perceptions of the correct direction for both student and institution are mine. They are not reflective of any institutional preference.
I will start with a great example of a student assuming responsibility and provide a compelling argument to his peers. It concerns attendance in class. Attendance at the university level is not a trivial matter, so let me explain the value of attendance. The positive story will follow this explanation of attendance.
Twice in 40 semesters of university teaching, I have made attendance optional in the sense that I did not assign any component of the final grade to attendance. Instead, I made it clear that I considered my lecture and in-class assignments, the expansion and learning a student should expect beyond what they gain from just reading the textbook. In other words, the additional value received from attending college. Not the value you could gain from just reading the material. I strongly encouraged students to attend as I felt it would improve their learning but left the ultimate decision to attend as their responsibility.
In the first instance of the non-mandatory attendance policy, the pass rate was under 60%, and the average grade was a D+. I waited many years before the next attempt at letting students have complete responsibility for attending class. Again, this means attendance has no direct impact on their final grade. Perhaps my explanation of why to attend was more compelling. Also, I had the previous class example, which I shared with the current students. Another explanation for the better outcomes is the students were better. In any event, the final grade outcomes were better but again significantly below my expectations and experience with other classes. The average final grade was 72%, and 10% failed the course.
As a department head, I am aware these outcomes happen when attendance is optional in other disciplines and with other professors. Attendance is a systemic problem at most universities. It is so critical that most universities mandate syllabi to address attendance policy in detail. This contrasts with previous generations that had the simple but obvious statement such as "students are expected to attend all classes." As shown in the following story, the situation does not have to be this way.
With that context in mind, I relate a discussion I overhead before an 8:00 AM class. One student who had car trouble explained to a group of other students why he made such an effort to be in class on time. In fact, he had gone around his apartment complex and asked several strangers if they were on their way to the university and if he could get a ride. According to my syllabus, the students in the class were incredulous. They pointed out that he could miss up to three classes without a grade penalty. The other students were correct about my syllabus policy. The diligent student explained that he had calculated the cost per class early in his college career. It was then that he decided it was a colossal waste of money to miss any class. It was like burning that cash as far as he was concerned.
This story and reasoning are from a student who readily admits his parents pay for his college expenses. To me, the point of this story is that some students are taking responsibility for gaining the value of their college education.
The next series of examples, however, show a different view of responsibility as expressed by students. The first is again from that most revealing of times, the minutes before class starts when various conversations occur.
This time a student and I are talking about the latest job interview she completed. She is explaining the interview ended with a job offer and that she was now weighing her three job offers. As the student and I began discussing the pros and cons of the various offers, another student interrupted. They had been eavesdropping. Their comment was, he wished he had those kinds of problems. I mentioned to the young man that if he had done the female student's legwork, he might have multiple offers to consider. I did not make that statement flippantly. I had set up two networking opportunities for this young man. Unfortunately, he had not followed up on either. As I continue to reflect on this incident over the years, I return to the point that the opportunities are there, but personal responsibility is missing.
The last vignette I share is on a systematic effort by my current institution to offer career opportunities to students. In this instance, my institution is fortunate to have two great departments that offer complementary but different majors. Students with a creative bent or desire should choose a major in a department different from mine. In contrast, students with business acumen and analytical outlooks should choose a major in my current department. As we tell students, you can achieve career aspirations with many different majors. However, in today's employment environment, employers seek specific skill sets. Therefore, it is easier if you are in the major expected by the employers.
This career outlook situation has existed for many years. Four years ago, a systematic and extensive campaign was instituted to ensure all prospective students and current students knew the situation. The goal was for the students to take personal responsibility for their choice of major. The university and department train every advisor on the different career options for these alternative majors. Every student receives information on the career paths associated with the various majors through written, verbal, and social media communications.
Additionally, when choosing one of these majors, each student meets individually with the department head of their respective major. And again, there is a conversation about the career options associated with the prospective major. This is an intentional and extensive effort to help students chose a major that advances their career aspirations. However, during all of this process, it is stressed that choosing a major is the student's responsibility.
This year, as part of the senior exit survey, students had an open-ended question; "What one thing would you like to share with the department?" Fourteen out of 80 responses, or 17.5%, expressed a lack of awareness about the career distinctions between the two departments and the alignment with career goals. I certainly can and do look at this as an opportunity to improve messaging to all students. However, I also wonder when the student's personal responsibility to pay attention to the advice and guidance begins.
One nonfinancial goal and benefit of a college education is developing individuals' awareness of their personal responsibility. It seems the institutions are providing the students with many opportunities in various learning and growth settings. Still, engagement in the learning process about personal responsibility is lacking by large percentages of students. I argue this extensive percentage statement because my exemplar examples are by no means unique to me. I found that between 10 and 40% of my students have failed courses that do not have a mandated attendance policy, meaning that students must be compelled to attend. Close to twenty percent of students are unaware of the systematic messaging about critical paths and decisions related to their major and career. Though I have no percentage, a significant number of students do not avail themselves of the personal and institutional resources provided to help them in their first career search.
It appears that personal responsibility can exist. See the example of the student that knew the cost per class. But personal responsibility seems to be waning. Perhaps it is time for the universities to let the pendulum shift over to increasing their personal responsibility. One step is allowing them to gauge and calculate the value of education and learning. Then, universities may need to believe in their own value proposition, provide the opportunity, and let the student attain the value. The implication is evident that the university should prepare for those students that fall short. The costs of a college education are high, and the consequences of failure are challenging. However, not providing consequences seems to diminish a core learning. Ultimately, students are responsible for the value of their collegiate education. It is possible that by mitigating the consequences of failing during college, the benefits of a complete understanding of personal responsibility through a lifetime may be severely diminished.
I think it is fair to say that much of what I have written so far is about the advantages and benefits of a college education. However, I guess I cannot stray far from my roots as a business professor. Therefore, it seems I position the argument in a cost-benefit framework. Frankly, as a parent paying for two children in college and as someone intimately involved in delivering a college education, I am OK with the cost-benefit analysis approach. A college education is expensive.
I think about cost-benefit as I ponder these facts. First, the number of Americans with at least a bachelors degree has exceeded 1/3 of the population as of 2016, according to the Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-51.html). Second, the mean income and median income of US households in 2015 were $75,558 and $53,889 respectively in 2015 (Census 2017). Third, a college education's average moderate total cost is $24,610 at an in-state public institution. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $49,320 according to a recent survey of the College Board (College Board 2016). Meaning to me, households sending even one student to college are spending between half and all of their annual household income (or borrowing a lot) in hopes of a considerable return. Looking at this from a cost-benefit perspective seems appropriate.
From my previous posts, I also think that I firmly believe that college education is transformational. In most cases, the benefits far outweigh the costs. However, there is that catch in most cases. Three little words, in most cases, but these words should raise questions. There are many questions, but this post will focus on three questions. First, how many college students are not getting the ROI anticipated? Is awareness of the student loan burden only the responsibility of the students and their families? Third, can colleges and universities take additional actions to help students receive a positive ROI on their college experience?
In an earlier post, I commented on significant debt burdens. Too much money owed from loans along with not enough future income creates a scenario of poor to non-existent financial returns (College Education ROI 2016). What is not in that blog is the magnitude of this problem or the number of students facing this scenario. The number and percentages are staggering. There are a few ways to look at this but let us use the following method. By several estimates, the percentage of students that complete a 4-year program of study in 4 years is between 40 and 50 percent (New York Times 2014 and Department of Education). The department of education report estimates a rough average of 4.33 years or another semester to complete. Now let's connect that with the 70% of students receiving (the percentage is higher for private institutions and lower for the public universities, but we will use the average) (Federal Reserve 2016). Therefore, at least 50% are taking longer than anticipated to complete their degrees, and 70% of those are using loans. Using the method from my earlier post, I am coming up with that between 25 and 30 percent of college graduates are likely to have a negative financial ROI on their college investment.
However, this post is not an indictment of the college system. Problems with the administration of colleges is covered in a future post. And indeed, several activities and policies of colleges and universities are counter-productive to students completing their program of study in four years. Many other reports and posts exist outlining these issues. However, we need more attention to student responsibility and the students' choices. As most will agree, college is a preparation for a career and life. That should include the choice of incurring substantial debt. Many students are well aware of their debt burden. They are also aware of how to calculate and anticipate the impact of borrowing. Unfortunately, other students are demonstrably unable to make accurate assessments of the implications of their chosen debt burden (Forbes 2014). Students should be personally responsible and learn. However, colleges and universities are places of learning. Adding the processes below as required of students would help fulfill that learning mission while helping their constituency. Both students and institutions must jointly assume responsibility for education around student loan choices.
Here are three suggestions that might help students address students' use of loans. First, as a step in the loan origination process, the students must complete a version of the return on investment exercise. Base it on their specific loans and majors with projected incomes for that major. This exercise is a good use of their research skills in learning the expected salaries of their chosen field. The exercise introduces students to future cash flows and discounting those cash flows to present value. The quantitative nature of the exercise is a good demonstration of their mathematics competency. Second, colleges and universities must take student loans to the bottom or near the bottom as a suggested form of education funding. Under current processes, too often, the student loan is the first funding option after college savings. Third, the student loan approval process must consider a realistic assessment of past academic performance and level of borrowing. The current standard of 150% of adequate yearly progress is not appropriate for student loans (just check out the ROI). Nor does the current system adequately address the totality of debt burden in relation to future earnings.
The value of the college education and experience is fantastic. Borrowing in the present to reap the rewards of the future is not illogical or inconsistent. However, borrowing without personal responsibility and complete information is the wrong student choice. The suggestions may actually help some students recognize that college is not the best option at this time. Colleges and universities must accept that not all students can afford to attend at this time. Therefore, the institutions must not try to create an artificial demand through contrived education financing. A realistic financial approach seems a desirable outcome for some students. Institutions have a moral obligation to help all potential students avoid burdening themselves with unsustainable debt.
Many of you know that I am teaching B2B marketing #b2b #b2bmarketing using LinkedIn as the platform for the students to learn how to manage both a LeadGen and ABM campaign. Some may also know of my firm conviction that a university education is a transformative event. Combining these two important aspects of my life has led to this latest endeavor. I will be posting links to my blogs on the value ofHere are my essays.