By Timothy Barrett, Argent Trust Company
You might have noticed the proliferation of articles questioning whether a college degree is worth the price of tuition, or the mountain of student debt. Collegeboard.org reports that a four-year degree on average will cost you $34,000 (in-state tuition) to $75,000 (out-of-state tuition) at a public college, and about $100,000 at a private college, not counting the average on-campus living costs of about $55,000 more. The top-rated colleges may set you back more than $300,000 for a prestigious sheepskin. The Institute of College Access and Success estimates that 68% of college graduates have student loans with an average debt of $30,000.
The Pew Research Center reports that in 2012 a college graduate earned on average 60% more than a high school graduate and was three times more likely to find employment and live above the poverty level. Many other sources confirm that a lifetime of higher compensation, greater likelihood of employment, and a higher standard of living follows a college degree.
The next logical question may be just how satisfied college graduates are with their bargain. Pew reports that 21% of college graduates with science and engineering degrees, 27% with business degrees and 40% with liberal arts and education degrees aren’t working in their field of study. About 10% of this group can’t find full-time employment and 15% of them work as independent contractors, on-call workers or temp agency workers with fewer employer provided benefits. Fully 40% think they are overqualified for their current job.
Although three times the number of 25 to 32-year-olds now have college degrees compared to 1965, Pew reports that the median annual earnings for all workers have stagnated, growing from $30,982 to just $35,000 (in 2012 dollars) over the last 50 years. About 64% of these workers, including those with college degrees who may also be carrying student loan debt, feel that they need more education and training to get ahead in their occupation. Half of those think more formal education is the answer while the other half look to on-the-job training and certifications for help.
The trend is clear. Compensation is not keeping up with the costs of preparation for employment and it doesn’t just affect college graduates. Pew and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that the higher paying job opportunities will require formal education, on-the-job training and prior related experience, a combination they call above-average preparation. The fastest growing job opportunities require much less preparation but high levels of social and physical skills, mostly in personal and retail service sectors, like shop clerks, orderlies and bartenders. These jobs don’t pay as well as bank tellers, service center operators, and data-entry keyers, but aren’t susceptible to automation or exportation.
In fact, most jobs today require no formal educational credential at all and no post-secondary degree but will pay less than the median wage of $40,000 a year, lack employer benefits and job security, and tend to require non-traditional hours or on-call availability. Still, the fastest growing job opportunities will require high levels of preparation, including formal education and above average leadership, social, communication and analytical skills in technology, healthcare, math and science.
A college education is still the best path to developing those essential skills, although many employers lack the expertise to recognize these attributes in recent college graduates. Forbes recently reported that most employers set job requirements that overvalue prior experience because they don’t know how to measure the skills they are seeking from applicants. These so-called soft skills include team-building, written and verbal communication, analytics and problem-solving, work ethic and inter-personal social skills.
As colleges vie for student enrollment, students must demand more for their patronage. Seek out institutions that:
- Measure student learning outcomes
- Offer programs that partner with related professional associations
- Coordinate with industry employers, and
- Actively promote their students’ career-readiness and occupational competencies.
There are 5,300 colleges and universities in the U.S. serving over 20 million students. You deserve to get your money’s worth.
For more information about Argent Trust Company, click here.
Timothy Barrett is a Senior Vice President with Argent Trust Company. Timothy is an attorney and wealth strategist who develops tailored proposals to protect, manage, and grow clients’ wealth with an emphasis on business succession, transfer and sales strategies for entrepreneurs.