In most of my discussions and workshops about career-connected learning and pathways, at some point we land on the concern that Americans have a “four-year-college-for-all” belief that is supported by policies and pop-culture. Somewhere along the line, most of us adopted the idea that a four-year degree is the preferred track or outcome for most students.
The September 2018 release of the annual PDK opinion poll on education gives some pretty solid numbers to support his perception. You can download the entire report here: See: http://pdkpoll.org/assets/downloads/pdkpoll50_2018.pdf
As to the perceived value of postsecondary education, based on answers to the survey’s questions, 62% of Americans believe or strongly believe that a 2-year degree is good preparation for a good paying job, and 82% believe that a four-year degree is good preparation for a good-paying job.
Honestly, I might have answered the survey questions similarly because of the way they’re worded. I do believe that MANY degrees are very good preparation for good paying careers.
But the quiet tragedy is that millions of young Americans incur the cost and/or debt of college but never acquire a degree. They never get far enough to test the link between a degree and a job.
And even among those who earn degrees, some degrees connect more clearly to career pathways than others. Think about engineering, information technology, health care or business degrees. However, among the 1.9 million annual four-year degree graduates, about 350,000 graduate with a degree in liberal arts, general studies or humanities. The job-related value of these degrees is MUCH looser than some of the technical or business focused degrees.
In today’s high-cost postsecondary environment, I think it is incumbent on these liberal arts/humanities programs to ensure that they help students connect the dots between their programs and real jobs – even if those jobs are in sales, business services, and non-profit sectors. The students expect to be employable and find good work upon finishing their programs, and college leaders should be able to balance these roles of promoting academic learning and career preparation. If liberal arts programs don’t create this balance for their students, I believe they are going to continue struggling with enrollments.
For information on degrees earned, see: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cta.asp
This is the kind of information we are working to organize and make sense of so that Americans understand the value of postsecondary education and training, but don’t have unrealistic expectations about college degrees.
Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.